Protesters stand against proposed digester

Not everyone is against controversial project

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 4/3/24

ELLSWORTH – A group of protesters against a proposed anaerobic digester in Ellsworth is making sure their voices are heard. As yellow “No Manure Digester” signs have popped up in …

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Protesters stand against proposed digester

Not everyone is against controversial project


ELLSWORTH – A group of protesters against a proposed anaerobic digester in Ellsworth is making sure their voices are heard. As yellow “No Manure Digester” signs have popped up in yards around town, people have also been protesting outside village hall prior to village board meetings.

The first protest took place Thursday, March 28 prior to the Ellsworth Community Development Authority and special village board meetings. One of the organizers, Karissa Hanson, said after an ad in the Pierce County Journal from Paul Bauer (printed in the March 27 edition) referred to those against the digester as the “vocal minority,” she thought it was important to show him they are, in her words, a vocal majority.

“We also speak for the silent majority that feel they cannot speak for fear of retaliation against their small business, or there are employees of the Creamery that fear termination,” Hanson said.

Pierce County resident Samantha Fisher, who is part of People Protecting Pierce, said this situation is near and dear to her. She has been vocal in her opposition of CAFO farms in the county, citing concerns about nitrate poisoning and groundwater contamination.

“I may not live in Ellsworth, but a lot of my family does,” Fisher said. “I wanted to offer support to the people who are facing many of the same challenges I am. I know how much it sucks not being heard because we aren’t the ones with money.”

Ellsworth resident Dawn Benoy said she attended the protest because she feels the board is not being transparent or accountable to the people. She also felt Bauer’s ad in the Journal was derogatory to those who oppose the project.

“There seems to be a hidden agenda surrounding the biodigester project,” Benoy said. “Why will no one answer the supposedly simple question of just who will benefit from this being added to our community?

“It’s been said that the board was approached regarding that property where Bigadan would like to place the biodigester. However, the potential harm to come to those within this close of proximity, in my opinion, should have ruled this area out from the get-go. I do not feel it should be within village limits, potentially placing us all in danger. The schools are located very close to this proposed area and that terrifies me.”

Benoy also said the board has held too many closed session meetings on the topic, which she feels should be open to the public.

According to Wisconsin state law, boards may convene into closed session for the following situations:

  • Deliberation concerning a case which was the subject of any judicial or quasi-judicial trial or hearing before that governmental body.
  • Considering dismissal, demotion, licensing or discipline of any public employee or person licensed by a board or commission or the investigation of charges against such person, or considering the grant or denial of tenure for a university faculty member, and the taking of formal action on any such matter; provided that the faculty member or other public employee or person licensed is given actual notice of any evidentiary hearing which may be held prior to final action being taken and of any meeting at which final action may be taken. The notice shall contain a statement that the person has the right to demand that the evidentiary hearing or meeting be held in open session.
  • Considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.
  • Considering specific applications of probation, extended supervision or parole, or considering strategy for crime detection or prevention.
  • Deliberating or negotiating the purchasing of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.
  • Deliberating by the council on unemployment insurance in a meeting at which all employer members of the council or all employee members of the council are excluded.
  • Deliberating by the council on worker's compensation in a meeting at which all employer members of the council or all employee members of the council are excluded.
  • Deliberating under s. 70if the location of a burial site, as defined in s. 157.70 (1) (b), is a subject of the deliberation and if discussing the location in public would be likely to result in disturbance of the burial site.
  • Considering financial, medical, social or personal histories or disciplinary data of specific persons, preliminary consideration of specific personnel problems or the investigation of charges against specific persons except where par. (b)applies which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect upon the reputation of any person referred to in such histories or data, or involved in such problems or investigations.
  • Conferring with legal counsel for the governmental body who is rendering oral or written advice concerning strategy to be adopted by the body with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved.
  • Consideration of requests for confidential written advice from the elections commission under s. 05 (6a)or the ethics commission under s. 19.46 (2), or from any county or municipal ethics board under s. 19.59 (5).

But not everyone is against the project. The “Ellsworth WI Community Happenings” Facebook page has become a battleground of sorts for people for and against the proposal. Resident Ben Hines urged the village board to vote in favor of the digester, which is proposed by Danish company Bigadan on 40 acres owned by Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in the East End Industrial Park.

“I am a supporter of this project & talking with friends & families have heard many like-minded opinions,” Hines wrote. “I like the Ellsworth Creamery & the way it has put our great community on the map. I frequent places often for food & beverage outside of a thirty or even 60 mile radius & gives me joy to see the menu option 'Ellsworth Cheese curds' I love it! I do not wish to be negative but our small Village NEEDS help! We need this opportunity to make this a bigger, better thriving community! We have a great spot for this in the industrial park - what it was intended for! A financial ‘plus’ on our budget & a chance for people to work in the community & reason to move or stay close in the Village. I personally would love to work at a Plant like this, presently work in Rosemount along with many from the immediate area only because there is not places like it that pay well around here. It does not require a heavy increase in infrastructure & only waste equivalent to a large family residence going to our sewage treatment plant.

“I like the location presented for the plant, it makes sense! We have the Industrial Park for Businesses like this. State & County Roads are already established. We have an Ag Business already in the area along with a Biosolids Plant which recently is upgrading its facility. It is not near downtown or Schools, the company has impressive housekeeping records / status. We have many, MANY cell phones towers that are equal to if not at a greater height than proposed stack. It is within a reasonable distance to install an underground pipe to receive a strong community based Co-op organic matter not to mention within a reasonable distance to the Natural Gas Station that has been in place for years. This does not even bring mention to the benefit of lowering nitrates in the ground water from runoff derived from farm animal waste application.

“I think it would be great for the Creamery to transfer some of the liquid organic matter to the Bioenergy plant to help relieve their own aerobic treatment facility. I believe it would help Ellsworth create jobs from running the plant, people needed for trucking, people needed for construction, people continually needed for maintenance, inspections, daily operation of the plant. Ellsworth needs business, people to run the businesses, reasons to move here, choices, expansions.”

Plan Commission member Mike Bull commented on Hines’ post, also showing his support for the project.

“I mean zero ill will against anybody when I say this but I think the nay sayers for the most part won’t even look at the positives. They just want this town to stay the way it is and yet have zero concept of why we cannot have any of the bigger named places (Kwik Trip) for example, to even consider the town. In order for most places to come they need a larger volume of traffic to pass by the location and if we continue to keep sending these ideas to the wayside, we as a town will never grow. We chance the creamery leaving this town if they can’t come up with a viable option to reduce the cost of their byproduct being processed- this town would shut down if that were the case. I think others should take a drive around and see what every other growing town has and that is “Industry” in some form or another. Time will tell but I myself am a yes for all the reasons you spoke and then some.”

At the April 1 village board meeting, Village President Becky Beissel said the board is trying to conclude their Memorandum of Understanding and will then put it out publicly.

“There will be open meetings,” she said.

When Halls Hill resident Larry Langer asked Village Attorney Bob Loberg is the residents against the digester should consider getting their own attorney, Trustee Tony Hines gave him a cryptic answer.

“I wouldn’t do it yet. I’d wait a week or two,” he said.

Ellsworth Village Board, protest, anaerobic digester, Ellsworth, WI