Considerable attention has been given to the biodigester operation in Bath Township as there are numerous concerns about the odor, road wear and tear, and the potential inclusion of more uncovered waste lagoons. The biodigester, owned by Renergy, Inc., utilizes an anaerobic process to break down organic waste and produce renewable electricity.
Recently Bath Township filed a complaint against Renergy based on the issues outlined above. The common pleas court ruled in favor of Renergy, indicating that the operation constitutes a utility in accordance with state law. The township has now filed an appeal with the 2nd District Court of Appeals, and this appeal is pending.
I have been mediating a compromise between the township and Renergy. I have taken this on as someone that knows both parties well and wants to get to a win-win solution everyone can accept. This tentative agreement includes an engineered cover to mitigate potential odors from the lagoon, annual contributions to the road maintenance and upkeep, and an agreement to withdraw its previously submitted application for two storage lagoons. To be clear, the issue of “no future lagoon development” was never part of the discussion. As indicated in my July 9 quote in the Dayton Daily News, Renergy tentatively agreed “ … not to reinstate the permit (previously submitted) for storage lagoons.” If in the future, lagoons are desired for operations, they will have to be approved through the EPA permitting process and will also require engineered lids. These concessions are contingent on the township dropping its appeal. There are a number of citizens who do not want to negotiate with Renergy. This is their right; but I want to make sure we all go into this with the facts.
Some points I would like to clarify regarding this situation:
— The biodigester is an environmentally friendly and sustainable method of disposing waste. The biodigester is conserving landfill space and producing renewable energy that is sent back to the grid.
— Regarding the appeal, the court of appeals will review the lower court’s ruling as to if it was based on law, and if it abused its discretion. It is likely the lower court’s decision would not be overturned no matter their personal views.
— Having the case heard by the Ohio Supreme Court is extremely unlikely, as it only entertains a very small percentage of the cases requested.
— The class-action lawsuit filed by a number of citizens, if won, would result in only personal compensation — the decision would not affect the operation/resources associated with the biodigester.
— Bath Township and Greene County have no current waste disposal contract with Renergy, as recently reported by a Fairborn group.
— Economically, in addition to the annual contribution for road maintenance, the biodigester contributes approximately $40,000 in taxes, of which $25,000 goes to Fairborn schools. To be clear, as a public utility, Renergy is absolutely under no obligation today to install the engineered cap, contribute money toward Herr Road, or do anything else for the community. It is a business that cares about supporting the community to the greatest extent possible. To risk losing these concessions while hoping for a favorable ruling on appeal is unwise. This agreement is contingent on the trustees withdrawing the appeal, but don’t take this as a sign of weakness. The money spent defending the appeal would be diverted to the concessions described above. According to many in the legal field, any reversal of the lower court ruling at any level is highly unlikely.
This agreement is tentative, still needing the trustees and Renergy to agree to the provisions. The dialog has been reasonable on both ends thus far and hopefully an agreement will be reached soon.
I want to acknowledge the Bath Township Trustees involved in this negotiation — Steve Ross and Kassie Lester. They are in a difficult position but accomplishing their due diligence to ensure they do what is right for their constituents and for the future of Bath Township. Likewise, my colleagues at the commission have been extremely supportive in this difficult situation. It is my hope that both parties will come to a mutually agreeable understanding and we can ensure that Bath Township and Fairborn remain the attractive places to live, work, and raise a family.
Rick Perales is a Greene County commissioner and former state representative.