Politics

For months, community activists waged a heated campaign against a plan backed by Mayor Greg Fischer to build a methane gas plant in Louisville’s California neighborhood.

But after months of community pushback, Indiana-based STAR BioEnergy on Thursday withdrew a proposal to construct a methane gas plant that uses anaerobic biodigesters in West Louisville.

The methane plant’s opponents cheered the decision — and many vowed to work so that such controversies aren’t stirred again in the future.

The plant would have converted organic waste into methane gas.

Opponents said the proposal was unfair because West Louisville already has a high concentration of chemical and gas plants. During multiple community meetings on the proposal, neighbors expressed concerns about issues ranging from odors to traffic from heavy vehicles.

The controversy led to a coalition of West Louisville Metro Council members, social justice activists, residents and local business owners opposing the plan. Plans for a second methane plant in West Louisville were scrapped in August.

Councilman David James, a Democrat who represents the district where the plant was proposed, said he’s pleased with the decision to nix the project.

“I don’t see how anybody could really want to put a methane digester 125 feet from somebody’s front door where they’re trying to raise their family,” said James. “It’s a huge quality-of-life issue.”

He said the change in course is the result of a combination of factors.

“The strong community involvement, coupled with the push back from Metro Council, as well as state legislators like [Sen.] Gerald Neal and [Rep.] Tom Riner was the combination needed to ensure the plans for a methane biodigester didn’t come to fruition,” James said. “The citizens of Louisville won.”

Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, a Democrat who brought this issue to the attention of residents early last year, she was elated when she got the news late Wednesday night.

She said the biodigester may not have posed a health hazard, but it presented a quality-of-life concern. “I want to send a message to the mayor, do not bring any unwanted economic development to my community,” she said.

In its statement, STAR BioEnergy said it could have done a better job communicating with residents early on the process.

Mayor Fischer’s administration recently attempted to broker a $5 million deal for community support for the methane plant. But on Thursday afternoon, Fischer issued a statement saying he had urged the company to pull out.

Woolridge said she took issue with Fischer’s statement.

Activists and neighborhood leaders said their efforts led to the withdrawal.

“It reflects the hard work of a broad-based coalition east and west of Ninth Street,” activist Bani Hines-Hudson said.

Carol Clark, a resident and business owner in the California neighborhood, spoke out against the plan, which put the digester a couple blocks from her barber shop.

“Hallelujah. I am ecstatic,” she said upon hearing the plans had been scratched. “It just shows you that our determination and standing up for what you believe will prevail. It’ll show up for you.”

But there is still work ahead, activists say.

Woolridge said she’ll push back just as forcefully if officials look to put the digester in any other residential neighborhood.

“I am going to be just as vocal,” Woolridge said. “That is the message I sent to the mayor seven months ago; I’m sending that message again: We will not allow you to put something that ruins the quality of life in a residential neighborhood.”

Activist Martina Nichols Kunnecke said the city needs a new policy in place to block companies from putting heavy industry in residential neighborhoods in the future.

“We stand steadfast in the belief that this is good technology, but we need to — as a community — to come up with policy regarding the appropriate location that will protect neighborhoods,” she said.

Former Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott, who has been among the opponents of the methane plant, said the withdrawal of the plans is a victory for the California neighborhood.

“I am so proud of the community leaders in West Louisville and, quite frankly, across Louisville, who fought back against these methane plants coming to the California neighborhood,” Scott said. “It’s amazing news.”

WFPL News reporters Erica Peterson and Jacob Ryan contributed to this story.

(Photo by J. Tyler Franklin/WFPL News.)