County: Digester operator may be in breach of contract due to pollution violations

Reported violations in addition to 3 manure spills, explosion
County: Digester operator may be in breach of contract due to pollution violations

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials said one of Dane County’s manure digesters is polluting the air, and one Dane County supervisor said this and other violations may make them in breach of contracts.

The DNR notified Clear Horizons, LLC, of nearly 90 violations last week, saying there were more than 40 incidents that levels of hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde were released into the air in 2013. They were also not compliant with emissions reporting in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

These issues are on top of three manure spills and an explosion at the facility since last December.

When the Waunakee-area manure digester was started in 2010, the county executed a land and an equipment contract with operator Clear Horizons. A clause in those contracts say they must comply with all federal, state and local laws.

Waunakee County Board Supervisor Tim Kiefer said the issues have come to a breaking point, and he said the county may be able to exercise that clause.

“I think that day of reckoning is fast approaching where if there is not a voluntary decision by Clear Horizons to step aside, I think the county could certainly pursue other options we’ve preferred not to pursue up to this point,” Kiefer said. “Declaring them in breach of contract and going to court is certainly an option to be considered.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi isn’t willing to go that far yet.

“We don’t have a lot of hammers other than the nuclear option, which would be to pull the county’s portion of the contract,” Parisi said Monday. “But what that would do is leave the farmers who are utilizing the facility high and dry, and it would take away from the work that is being done there.”

Clear Horizons CEO Jim Ditter declined News 3’s request for an interview Monday, but said they had informed the DNR of air quality issues they were having at the facility and they were “taking corrective action.”

News 3 also spoke with one of the farmers who supplies manure for the digester. Gary Ripp said they weren’t aware of the air pollution violations until the publicity over the weekend, but said it would be easiest for them if the digester continued operation rather than any sort of shutdown or suspension.