Lowell city manager cuts off communication with biodigester operators

Biodigester failure

LOWELL, MICH (WZZM) - The new operators of the "stinky" biodigester in Lowell say several design flaws doomed the $6 million facility from its inception in 2015. 

This comes as the 13 Watchdog team obtained an e-mail late Thursday authored by Lowell City Manager Michael Burns indicating the city "has no intention to meet with (the new operators) at anytime in the future".  That apparent shut down of communication seems to signal the biodigester may be closed for good.

The city of Lowell revoked a permit to operate the facility on December 1, 2016.  Burns says the biodigester can't operate without a permit.

We reported Wednesday, the local company Advanced Water & Energy Solutions LLC (AWES) now is overseeing operations at the biodigester property on Chatham Street. The facility was formerly operated by Lowell Energy AD.  Anonymous investors put up the initial funding to get the project going but, now, have hired a law firm to try to get the facility operating again. 

AWES leaders told us today they will request a permit to begin operating a portion of the biodigester again in Lowell.  The company's President, Ross Pope, says it will cost them approximately $1 million to reconstruct the facility.

Pope says the city should give his company a second chance at putting things back together.

"We need to get past the fear and politics and deal with the facts and evidence of what we have," Pope said.

The facility was built to take waste and turn it into electricity.  Lowell Light & Power has a contract with the biodigester to purchase electricity produced by the plant.  Pope said the anonymous investors also have a contract with nearby manufacturer Litehouse to take in the company's waste byproduct. 

Now it appears those contracts are up in the air.

Pope and his engineering expert, Daniel De Buhr, told us the construction on the original biodigester was not done correctly.  They pointed to numerous clogged panels that were installed in the facility that are currently soaked with waste byproduct.

"That's the evidence of how bad it is," De Buhr said.  "There's a half a ton of waste in something that should weigh no more than 200 pounds."

De Buhr says they can do it right by rebuilding the facility at an additional cost of $1 million.

"I have a plant that's a duplicate to this plant that has been running for almost a decade with no odor issues," De Buhr said.

Even after having it cleaned from top to bottom, it still has that distinct smell inside the shell of the biodigester. It was a smell that was all too familiar to people who live in Lowell this fall and winter. 

The biodigester structure is now open to the air and looks much different than what it looked like last November.  At that time, we saw the aftermath of a total rupture of the facility where waste was slowly seeping out of the structure after the failure.

Pope and De Buhr say after months of research they found that the people who built this place originally did it all wrong.  Pope said the smell went on for too long because the previous operators, all first-timers in his opinion, didn't know how to build and operate the facility to pinpoint the right problem.

"It was an insidious odor that was perpetuated and continued far beyond what it should have been," Pope said.  "The neighbors should never have had to endure it."

Pope said if given the opportunity to operate again, he would shut down the facility immediately when there's a problem.

At this point, though, it appears AWES has an uphill battle to get approval to operate on the site again.

Yesterday, Burns released a statement indicating the new operators weren't part of the discussion.

"The biodigester is not operational and the City is not considering issuing a permit at this point," Lowell City Manager Michael Burns said.  "The City and Lowell Light and Power are working with Litehouse to explore a variety of options for wastewater treatment. We look forward to sharing potential solutions at an upcoming public meeting."

►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@wzzm13.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter.

© 2017 WZZM-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment
More Stories