Greene County declares support for Bath Twp. residents in biodigester case

Lawsuits continue against Renergy, including claims from massive Christmas Eve spill in northern Ohio

The Greene County Board of Commissioners has declared formal support for a group of residents of Fairborn and Bath Twp. who are working to bring the controversial Dovetail biodigester in Bath Twp. “into compliance” with environmental regulations, though those same citizens argue the county’s statement has no teeth.

The commissioners’ resolution, passed Thursday, acknowledges multiple complaints and lawsuits filed against Renergy, Inc., which operates a biodigester energy facility in Bath Twp.

“The Board of Commissioners supports the citizens of Greene County to have their general health, safety, and welfare protected by those agencies with the authority to act on their behalf,” the resolution reads.

The commissioners have no regulatory authority over Renergy, County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said during the board’s regular meeting Thursday. A Greene County court case in 2021 declared Renergy, and bio-energy facilities like it, to be public utilities exempt from local zoning and other regulations, leaving the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency as the regulatory agency governing the facility.

However, the commissioners “support (the Ohio EPA) and want them to do their job,” said Commissioner Rick Perales.

The Dovetail biodigester, operated by Renergy and located on Herr Road in Bath Twp., uses an anaerobic process to break down food waste and manure into fertilizer and methane gas for electricity in Greene County. The facility has been a source of controversy for years, as neighbors have long complained of odors, and Bath Twp. officials have pursued zoning controls.

Representatives of Renergy could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Some Bath Twp. residents criticized the “watered-down” language of the commissioners’ resolution, compared to similar resolutions where the commissioners voiced strong opposition to the Kingwood Solar project, another energy project that was heavily criticized by surrounding residents.

“We have attempted to get the commissioners’ help and support for over five years,” said Lorie Venable, a member of Bath Twp. Biodigester Concerned Citizens, adding that the commissioners’ statement puts the action back in the hands of the federal and state EPAs.

“That’s the problem,” Venable said. “OEPA has not enforced federal or state laws and regulations. We feel that the commissioners once again threw the citizens of Bath Twp. and Fairborn under the bus.”

Meanwhile, Renergy’s legal problems continue. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued Renergy last year for failure to comply with EPA regulations, one of three suits in which Renergy are named defendants.

On Christmas Eve last year, an equipment malfunction at Renergy’s Emerald facility in Morrow County caused approximately 150,000 gallons of partially treated digestate waste to spill into the ground and into the nearby Whetstone Creek near Cardington, in north central Ohio. An estimated 40,000-50,000 gallons of the waste discharged to waters of the state was not recovered, court documents say.

In January, the Attorney General’s Office filed a supplemental complaint and motion for preliminary injunction against Renergy, Emerald, and Renergy CEO Alex Ringler for the spill, alleging violations of Ohio’s water pollution laws.

The state’s filing further alleges that the company did not properly report the spill or manage the cleanup of waste material, including flushing partially treated digestate into the creek and land applying the material rather than containing it for proper disposal.

A class-action lawsuit against Dovetail Bioenergy, and Pitstick Pork Farms, the business on whose site Dovetail operates, is ongoing in Greene County Common Pleas Court, as is a lawsuit by Fairborn and Bath Twp. in the Southern District of Ohio Federal Court.

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