BATH TOWNSHIP – The Bath Township Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) upheld the cease-and-desist order issued in September against the anaerobic digester facility by Dovetail Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Renergy Inc. and Pitstick Renewable Energy LLC.
After spending three hours deliberating with an attorney in an executive session, the BZA unanimously affirmed the decision of township zoning authorities with respect to their determination of the current and proposed uses of the properties subject to the appeals. Dovetail Energy LLC initially filed those appeals with Township Zoning Inspector Jim Miller in late September.
According to the cease and desist order, the anaerobic digester facility, located on Township Trustee Tom Pitstick’s farm at 1156 Herr Road, is in violation of both the Ohio Revised Code and the Bath Township Zoning Resolution.
The BZA also upheld the township’s decision to deny an agricultural exemption on adjacent property owned by Renergy Inc. where the company plans to construct two, open-air storage lagoons that would have the capacity to store a combined 32 million gallons of digested biosolids.
According to Miller, the BZA declined to tackle the issue of whether or not the facility was a public utility. During a BZA public hearing held in February, attorneys representing Dovetail Energy LLC said the facility is a public utility, which Bath Township has no jurisdiction or authority to regulate.
“The BZA did not feel it was within the scope of the purview to determine if the facility was or was not a public utility, regardless of how it was being taxed. The BZA chose to consider only the agricultural-versus-industrial zoning issue,” Miller said following the hearing.
Miller said the prevailing thought among township officials has been to allow the appeals process to run its course, including an appeal that the county common pleas court will likely hear in the future.
“If the township just lets the appeals process play out, then Dovetail will continue to operate as it has been. However, the company can do nothing to expand operations. No storage lagoons can be built on the land now owned by Renergy Inc.,” Miller said.
Township residents Jacob and Sarah Fulton, who filed a petition of intervention in the case with the BZA, expressed their appreciation to the BZA for patiently sifting through the brief they submitted and confirming that Bath Township has the right to enforce its zoning restrictions. The couple also thanked township trustees and zoning inspectors, and members of the community who stepped up and supported them.
“Dovetail continues to get rich off of taxpayers’ money while literally trying to turn our community into a foul and dangerous dumping ground. We are protecting our drinking water wells, our homes, our children, our tax base, and are preventing our farmers’ fields from being poisoned,” the couple said in a joint statement. “Dovetail has a record of significant violations and mismanagement at existing facilities, and we will continue to work with the township and stand up to Dovetail for as long as it takes.”
Fairborn resident Ben (Matt) Jones also expressed his gratitude to the BZA for upholding the township’s cease and desist order against Dovetail Energy LLC. However, he expressed some skepticism in regards to the township issuing an injunction order that would halt operations at the biodigester facility.
“I’m thankful that the BZA unanimously found the citizens were correct, but it begs the question: Why did it take four years for the Bath Township Trustees to act?” Jones said. “The digester people now claim they are a ‘public utility’ which exempts them from zoning. So, while this is a good victory for the people of Fairborn, I’m afraid the battle is not over.”
Jeremiah Stamp, who lives with his wife and three children in Fairborn, described his reaction to the BZA’s decision as bittersweet.
“I am disappointed it had to come to this, but I am pleased with the BZA’s decision to uphold the law. I am hopeful we have avoided the planned 32-million gallon expansion of sewage sludge in our community and will finally put a stop to the current 5-million gallon operation,” said Stamp. “I am not surprised that Renergy plans to appeal, but they should realize that we are defending our family’s right to live in a community free from contamination. It is not just a business model for us. This is our lives.”
Herr Road resident Luke Borntrager expressed his gratitude to the BZA and described the board’s decision as a huge win for the citizens of Bath Township. However, he noted that the win is only a small step in the battle for the right to clean air, soil and water in the State of Ohio.
“It is also disheartening to find that this operation was ushered in as a direct result of a lack of leadership and due diligence on the part of our elected officials. This issue was only corrected after years of grassroots efforts by those living with the negative effects of it,” Borntrager said. “If the entire populous truly understood the long-term environmental and biological effects, these types of operations would be shut down overnight.”
Linda Collins is a freelance writer for Greene County News.