Board delays decision on digester project
The future of a St. Croix County manure digester remained in limbo after questions remained and would-be neighbors of the project continued to voice opposition.
The St. Croix County Board of Adjusters on Thursday, April 25, again tabled action on the $55 million Western Wisconsin Biogas and Nutrient Recovery project, proposed for the town of Pleasant Valley, a farming community south of Hammond. The project seeks to construct a facility that would process Jennie-O turkey litter and manure from dairy farms into natural gas that would be piped to Baldwin; other byproducts would be converted to fertilizer products to be sold.
The issue returned to the board for the first time since January when board members hit pause in order to allow the applicant, Agri-Waste Energy President Ray Davy, time to provide information including the project's odor management plan and noise levels. Board President Buck Malick also cautioned Davy that the prospect of diminished property values for surrounding homes could doom the project.
Davy submitted extensive information in response to the request, which included a report that cited no significant impact on housing values near 167 biogas plants in Italy. He also reiterated plans for odor-control equipment at the digester.
The property-value report did little to assuage community members' concerns about the project.
Town of Pleasant Valley attorney Catherine Munkittrick argued those studies weren't comparable to the St. Croix County project. Instead, she cited home-sale figures near a similar facility in Le Sueur, Minn. In six of eight cases she presented, the homes sold for less — one, for $70,000 less, another for $57,000 less — than their listing prices.
"I don't think we needed to look to Italy to see if they had an adverse effect" on values, Munkittrick said, later alleging approval of a conditional-use permit would have a negative effect on listings in Pleasant Valley. Potential buyers would likely be turned off by the notion of living near a manure digester, she said.
"That's the danger and that's the power of the conditional-use permit," Munkittrick told the board.
Community members again spoke in opposition to the project, raising concerns about traffic safety, odors, the project's proximity to the Kinnickinnic River and truck noise.
Pleasant Valley resident Olaf Wick said he'll be listing his property in short order if the project is approved.
"We don't want to live next to that," he told the board.
Responding to a question from board member Jim Nelson about why the project isn't being proposed for somewhere closer to the Jennie-O turkey plant in Barron, Davy said access to a major pipeline was necessary to move the natural gas product.
"We have access here," he said, adding that Jennie-O sought travel access without road restrictions.
The meeting concluded with closure of the public hearing and a request from St. Croix County Community Development Director Ellen Denzer for more time to rewrite conditions for the proposal. Malick said the number of daily trips in and out of the facility and the project's ability to spread its liquid fertilizer products in St. Croix County should be addressed.
Others on the board openly weighed their support for the request.
Board member Dave Niccum said he could go either way, but wanted more time.
"Green energy is the way things are going," he said. "I do believe in that, but I do have some questions."
Malick said he would oppose the project if forced to vote at the meeting, mainly due to property value concerns. Niccum later added he, too, had property-value concerns.
Board member Joe Miller said he recommended creating a "guideline" for citizens to file complaints if necessary.
Malick said he would reconvene the board once more information was prepared.