WOOSTER, Ohio — A rural community in northcentral Ohio is divided over plans to build a 10 million gallon waste lagoon in a woodland north of Wooster.
Quasar Energy, which operates the anaerobic digester on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, plans to construct the “Wiles Storage Pond” on a farm along Pleasant Home Road operated by farmer Jason Wiles.
The earthen-lined storage pond would hold both anaerobically digested biosolids and up to 300,000 gallons of hog manure annually from the landowner’s hog farm, according to the permit application.
Supporters say it will provide a source of organic fertilizer. Opponents fear it could lead to issues with groundwater contamination, odor and traffic.
Related: Canaan residents hold town hall meeting.
Quasar is leasing a wooded property where it intends to build its lagoon, from Jason Wiles, and an access lane has already been created.
Dina Pierce, media coordinator with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the EPA is reviewing Quasar’s application, filed Dec. 28, 2017, for a permit to build the lagoon, and if a draft permit is issued, there will be an opportunity for public comment.
Quasar CEO Mel Kurtz said the lagoon will be used for storing processed municipal, human and animal waste from the OARDC digester. After it leaves the digester, which is an enclosed structure that creates biogas and electricity to power the OARDC, the processed waste is called “effluent.”
The effluent is less volatile than raw manure, and amounts to a form of organic fertilizer that farmers want, Kurtz said.
Quasar officials say the effluent stored in the lagoon, and applied on farmers’ fields, will be less than 20 percent biosolids, also known as sewage sludge. And they say the biosolids are processed twice — first at wastewater treatment plants, and then inside the digester at the OARDC.
Kurtz said similar material is already being applied to farms in the area, and he considers this type of application “a normal farming practice.”
Quasar would not disclose where its biosolids used at the OARDC facility come from, citing confidentiality agreements with customers, but said the waste is supplied within a 60-mile radius of Wooster.
Jason Wiles is leasing the property to Quasar, and has first rights to use the product on his fields. They said the effluent will be applied to their land and other farms, but must be done by certified manure applicators, who must adhere to legally enforced setbacks from homes and water bodies.
“It’s already being spread around these houses and they don’t even know it,” Jason Wiles said.
The material can be injected or surface applied, with little to no odor when it is injected. Quasar says more than 19,000 acres of farmland in Wayne County have already been approved for this kind of material, and have been approved for years.
Jason’s father, Ken Wiles, said people have mistakenly assumed the lagoon would hold raw sewage.
“They have it in their head that it’s (raw) human waste and that’s not true,” he said.
But the project, and what exactly will go into the lagoon, has some residents on edge. A community action group that bills itself as the “Canaan Residents Against the Poop Pond” is trying to put a stop to the process and is planning a town hall meeting March 14 in Creston.
Fulton Road resident Kelly Miller said she grew up on a dairy farm and enjoys living in a farming community, and understands that noises and animal odors go with the experience. But she said this kind of operation is different.
“I want to live in the country, I want to live around farmers, I want to have that community feeling,” she said. “What I didn’t sign up for is human waste.”
She’s worried that the clay-lined lagoon could come close to the area’s water table, which she claims in some places is only 25-30 feet deep.
“It’s just going to be detrimental to our way of life and our basic living needs, and water,” she said.
Quasar has established itself as a leader in the renewable energy industry in Ohio, but its projects have not been without issue. Complaints have been filed against the company for odor issues related to its Wooster operations, and in the Cleveland area.
In 2016, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office sued Quasar for odors in Wooster, Cleveland and Sheffield Village, and the lawsuit also named the OARDC facility along Secrest Road. The state dismissed its own case in March 2017, at the request of Ohio EPA Director.
But Miller said if the material caused problems in Wooster and in other places, it’s probably going to the same in her neighborhood.
“There is valid concern, with their track record,” she said.
According to Kurtz, farmers want the product because it’s beneficial for their soils, and it helps replace synthetic fertilizers.
“It’s really a right-to-farm issue in my book,” he said. “If farmers are prohibited from using high organic (fertilizer), I’m not sure why.”
The U.S. EPA has standards for the processing and application of biosolids, and says that when treated and processed, biosolids can make a safe fertilizer. Biosolids must be closely monitored across the whole process, and are governed by the Clean Waters Act.
Learn more about biosolids and how they’re regulated.
Kurtz said the company is being upfront about its project. He said he would consider meeting with concerned residents, if the meeting were civil and factual.
“We have no problem attending any meeting as long as they’re small groups so we can discuss the issue, but we are not going to participate in emotional outbursts,” he said.
Related coverage: Canaan residents hold town hall meeting (March 15, 2018).
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