Sparks fly at anaerobic digester public hearing

Residents raise a ‘stink’ about potential odors

By Andrew Harrington
Posted 7/27/23

ELLSWORTH – Dozens of community members flocked to Ellsworth’s Village Hall Thursday, July 20 as the Plan Commission held a public hearing regarding the anaerobic digester proposed for …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Sparks fly at anaerobic digester public hearing

Residents raise a ‘stink’ about potential odors


ELLSWORTH – Dozens of community members flocked to Ellsworth’s Village Hall Thursday, July 20 as the Plan Commission held a public hearing regarding the anaerobic digester proposed for Ellsworth.

A 4-1 vote (Tony Hines voted against) at the meeting moves the proposal to a recommendation for the village board at a future meeting.

The anaerobic digester would be built on 25 acres of the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery’s land west of County Road C, near Kaufholds Kurds and Western Wisconsin Ag Supply.

The process of anaerobic digestion involves bacteria in sealed reactors without oxygen, breaking down animal and other organic waste to make biogas and digestate. The biogas makes things such as renewable natural gas, heat, electricity, vehicle fuel and bioproduct feedstock.

The digestate can go into organic fertilizer, crop irrigation, horticulture products and more.

Bigadan is the Danish company behind the proposal, who has plans to work with many local farms to provide a more eco-friendly way to dispose of manure.

Among the many concerns from residents in attendance, the most mentioned were potential smells coming from the digester. Complaints about odors already in the area where the digester is planned to be located, in addition to odors that come from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, caused belief that this could only increase the odors.

St. Croix Sensory President Michael McGinley said a piece of equipment called the Nasal Ranger will be brought in before the project begins, and the company will identify where the current odors are coming from. McGinley also said equipment will be provided to Bigadan to test the area for odor on a more consistent basis.

McGinley said when the process is done right with lots of testing, often previous odors can be eliminated. As for potential odors at the plant, McGinley advised a proactive approach, with lots of testing to put a stop to odor before it gets out of hand.

“Of course they’re here today to say, with experience from Europe, that there aren’t odors, but putting something in place so people are comfortable that there is a plan,” McGinley said. “If there are, there can be a reaction to help understand where they are coming from.”

The reason for a potential decrease in odor from the Creamery is because the high strength waste would be pumped through the digester, if it is approved.

One resident questioned the commission on why they do not move the plans near the house of one of the members if they are confident there will be no smell.

Others asked why it could not be located on a farm. Jørgen Fink of Bigadan said the site needs to have close access to water and a natural gas pipeline, which farms cannot always easily provide.

It was also suggested that there be a fine in place for any time there is a smell coming from the digester.

Ellsworth resident Casey Miller said the area smells already, and it is leading to home values decreasing while taxes still increase.

“It already smells so bad down there you guys,” Miller said. “If you want to buy our houses so that we don’t have to live there and smell it, then ok put it there.”

Scott Hines compared the situation to the biosolid facility that is near where the anaerobic digester is planned to be. Hines said many people in the area did not want the biosolid facility, and had fears that there would be a smell.

He continued by expressing his displeasure that even if people report the odor, there is little done to decrease it.

“They say, ‘Well, make a complaint,’” Scott Hines said. “What’s that good for, toilet paper? Cause there’s nothing done.”

Scott Hines continued by saying he does not believe this project is going to help the area’s odor and thinks there should be accountability if there is an odor.

“Adding more stink ain’t gonna cover up their stink, because I can guarantee you it’s going to stink,” Scott Hines said. “If you put the goddamn thing up and it does stink then what? It’s too damn late to tear it down and start over somewhere else.”

Residents in attendance questioned why Bigadan will avoid paying taxes if it builds in Ellsworth. Bigadan has a tax exemption from the government that members of the commission said is out of the hands of the village. Utilities, which the digester would be considered, are exempt from paying local property taxes per state law, but are subject to special state taxes.

Instead, the company proposed paying a “payment in lieu of taxes” or PILOT, in which the money would go directly to the village. While some said it would be less money than paying taxes, some commission members said it could be more valuable to the village since the whole amount would go toward the village.

Ellsworth resident Dale Hines spoke in favor of the digester at the meeting. Dale Hines touched on many issues, including the PILOT payment, odor and potential growth of the creamery. He said this could allow the creamery to expand even more, which would be a boost to local farmers.

“The Ellsworth Creamery would probably like to take more milk, but you can’t grow if you’re stifled with a current system,” Dale Hines said. “Something needs to be done.”

Residents expressed concern over the condition of the roads, as there will be an expected 150 instances of trucks driving on County Road C per day to the site. Beissel said around 10,000 vehicles travel through Ellsworth per day, to put the 150 trucks per day into perspective.

Scott Hines disagreed that the increased traffic flow would not be an issue, citing the road’s current conditions.

“150 on County Road C?” Scott Hines said. “That’s what, maybe 10 years old, maybe not even that, and it’s shot already.”

Fink assured attendees that while the company is based in Denmark, the company wants to work to better Ellsworth rather than harm it. Fink said many people filling jobs at the plant will be from Ellsworth, so making bad decisions for the community would negatively affect their employees.

“We want to support the community, because we are a Danish company, but we employ local people,” Fink said. “For us it is very important that we are seen as part of the local community.”

Fink said the anaerobic digester could also provide some heat to the village. While the heat is low-grade coming from the site, Fink said they could raise the heat to the necessary temperature.

The project will now go to a village board special meeting, with at least two weeks’ public notice on when it will take place. Questions including the Department of Natural Resources’ stance were largely shut down, as they were not a part of the agenda item, but will be addressed moving forward.

Bigadan, anaerobic digester, Ellsworth Plan Commission, Ellsworth, Wisconsin