Environment

The public will have a chance to weigh in on Louisville’s proposed biodigester regulations at a meeting Monday evening.

The regulations were sparked by two proposed projects on Louisville’s West End last year: one in the Russell neighborhood, and one in the California neighborhood.

Anerobic biodigesters take organic waste — like food or manure — and convert it to methane gas. The project’s organizers touted the technology as an ideal way to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the city’s landfill, as well as a renewable way to create natural gas. But residents in both neighborhoods opposed the plans, citing worries about safety and odors, as well as the facilities’ proximity to homes.

Ultimately, both projects were cancelled.

Under the proposed rules, biodigesters would be allowed in the city only in industrially-zoned locations that are at least a quarter mile from homes, churches and schools. They would also be allowed on legitimate agricultural operations.

According to the map released by Louisville’s Office of Planning and Design Services, this would limit most potential biodigester locations to several areas in Rubbertown and along the Ohio River in the southwestern part of the city, a large parcel near the airport and landfill and various agricultural locations near the southern and eastern borders of the county.

But those who originally advocated both for and against the biodigester projects see pitfalls with the proposed regulations. Louisville attorney Brian Zoeller and Kentucky Resource Council Director Tom FitzGerald both submitted comments to the city’s planning commission prior to Monday’s meeting.

Zoeller represented STAR BioEnergy — the company that planned to build a biodigester next to the Heaven Hill distillery in the California neighborhood — but said he submitted the comments in his capacity as a private attorney. He said STAR doesn’t have any other pending contracts for biodigesters in Louisville right now.

“I think it is a significant risk that a digester would not get developed in Jefferson County because of this rule,” he said of the proposed regulation. “And that is what some people want, unfortunately.”

Zoeller says the half-mile buffer in the city’s proposal is unworkable. He proposes that Louisville allow biodigesters within 300 feet of homes in areas zoned M-2 and M-3, if the projects first obtain conditional use permits. For enterprise zones — EZ-1 — he suggests that the city only allow “accessory use” biodigesters that process materials generated on site.

“I think that would be a significant negative development for the city, to kind of turn away a green renewable energy project,” Zoeller said. “I think it would significantly hamper the city’s sustainability goals of diverting significant amounts of material from the landfill.”

But while Zoeller says the proposed rules are too restrictive, FitzGerald, on behalf of his organization’s members, says they aren’t strict enough.

“Unfortunately, the proposal thus far would result in a proliferation of those [biodigester] facilities potentially, as opposed to greater control over the siting, the location and the potential risks posed by such facilities,” FitzGerald said.

The language currently in Louisville’s code restricts to M-3 industrial zones. FitzGerald says the draft rules expand the number of places companies could place biodigesters, which goes against the regulation’s intent.

FitzGerald’s letter also recommends the buffer area between biodigesters and homes be doubled — to a default distance of a half mile, which can be loosened to no less than a quarter mile depending on the circumstances.

He said an ideal location for a large biodigester in Louisville is on the Grade Lane side of the Outer Loop landfill.

“You have an area that’s buffered, you have an area that is industrial in nature, that is distant from residential properties, that you currently have a waste stream,” he said. “Half of Metro Louisville’s garbage is going to the Outer Loop landfill.”

The Planning Commission will hold a public meeting on the draft regulations Monday at 6 p.m. in the Old Jail Auditorium. The commission will then make a recommendation to Metro Council for final action.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.