Bath Twp., biodigester company could come to agreement

·5 min read

Jun. 10—The years-long fight in a Greene County community over a biodigester operation that produces strong odors could soon be over.

Bath Twp. trustees on Tuesday evening made a motion after going into executive session to allow the township's attorney to submit a settlement proposal to Dovetail, the company that operates the biodigester, on several key points between the company and the residents of Bath Twp.

Greene County Commissioner Rick Perales has been in discussions with the trustees and Dovetail's parent company, Renergy. If an agreement is reached, he said, Renergy will discuss odor mitigation, a road maintenance agreement and an agreement not to reinstate the permit for storage lagoons. Perales said the company would put a lid on the existing pond to mitigate the smell.

In return, Bath Twp. would drop its recently filed appeal against the company.

Pete Bales, Bath Twp. administrator, said the settlement proposal was submitted Wednesday.

The legal fight over the facility began in 2019 when an outside prosecutor was brought in to advise the township. Renergy and Bath Twp. Trustee Tom Pitstick, whose farm the biodigester operates on, were sent a letter from that prosecutor saying that the operation was in violation of both the Ohio Revised Code and Bath Twp. zoning code. The letter stated that Dovetail had 30 days to correct the violation. "Failure to correct this violation will result in legal action," the prosecutor stated in the letter.

A Greene County judge ruled recently that the biodigester was a public utility and not subject to township zoning rules. Bath Twp. filed an appeal on that ruling May 27, according to Greene County court records.

Now that the court has sided with Dovetail, some residents were concerned that the company would continue with plans to build two more storage lagoons on the Pitstick property. The proposed lagoons would store the by-product of the anaerobic biodigester processes, which can then be used as fertilizer. Dovetail's request to expand was put on hold when the 2019 zoning battle started.

Renergy COO Cari Oberfield has stated in the past that they do not plan to reapply for the additional ponds.

Perales said he felt this settlement was a way to make a "reasonable situation" out of a bad one.

"The only people who win when we're appealing are the lawyers," Perales said. "The vast majority of appeals are not overturned. I really do believe that Renergy is trying to be a good neighbor. I think this offer is them trying to do that."

Bales said the those three issues are the majority of the concerns the township hears from residents.

"We think this is in the best interest of the residents," Bales said. "An appeal is in the hands of the appeals court and the decision could go either way, but this settlement that addresses the large amount of issues on the table is a win-win for residents. If Renergy wins the appeal, the township has got nothing."

Bales said he felt the potential settlement was a "giant step forward."

"The township understands the concerns of the citizens are we're working diligently to address them throughout this whole process," Bales said. "This is in the best interest of the community."

Perales said this deal had been discussed for weeks. Bath Twp. Trustees also had special meetings on May 19 and May 28 to discuss "disputes involving the public body that are the subject of pending or imminent court action" and went into executive session immediately. Those meetings were held in the office of the Greene County commissioners.

Bath Twp. Trustee Steve Ross said the township had been internally discussing the potential for some sort of negotiations with the company starting last summer. Now that the court has ruled in favor of Renergy, all trustees were on the same page, he said.

Bath Twp. Trustee Kassie Lester said she hoped the potential settlement would be beneficial for all area residents. Lester said she knows that the residents have some other issues they would like addressed and hopes the settlement agreement can encompass those too.

"I'm going to do my best for the residents and make sure their health, safety and environmental concerns are addressed," Lester said.

Ross said he was in favor of the settlement agreement.

"Court is never a good way to settle things," Ross said. "I am very hopeful we can reach a settlement. When there is 'want to' on both sides, the chances are good."

Pitsick recused himself from these discussions and the vote.

"We appreciate Mr. Perales reaching out to find a win-win solution," Oberfield said in a written statement. "However, we are unable to comment on settlement discussions regarding litigation matters."

Over the years, numerous residents have complained to the Ohio EPA about the smell. The Ohio EPA has visited the Dovetail site multiple times to check on the smell. The operation was cited for starting construction a few days before the permits were final. The site was owned by Quasar then. Renergy bought the company out in 2017.

Anaerobic digesters are enclosed entities in which agricultural or food waste is stored and produce liquids and gases as the waste decomposes.

Fairborn and Bath Twp. residents said they have reported the smell from the facility on the Smell My City app nearly every day. Smell My City is a smartphone app designed to crowdsource reports of pollution odors.

At the May 19 trustee meeting, Fairborn resident Lorie Venable asked Pitstick to resign because he forwarded emails from citizens complaining about the odor directly to Oberfield. In the email chain, which was obtained by the Dayton Daily News, Oberfield asks if an ethics investigation was opened on Bath Twp. Trustee Kassie Lester. Ethics Commission investigations are not public records unless someone settles or the investigation is concluded, according to an Ethics Commission spokesman.

Venable started a petition a few months ago asking Pitstick and Ross to resign and accused them of being corrupt. About 500 people signed the petition.

The Dayton Daily News obtained an email from the U.S. EPA stating that an investigation had been opened on the Renergy facility in Greene County and a sister facility in Morrow County. When asked about the investigation, the EPA said it does not comment on open investigations.