PITTSFIELD TWP. — Attorneys for Pittsfield Township residents and the township trustees disagreed on how to pursue a lawsuit against Quasar Energy Group and French Creek BioEnergy LLC, but residents got what they wanted with a moratorium to stop the operation of a human waste storage lagoon on Quarry Road.
During a meeting Monday night, trustees voted to go forward with a moratorium on permits for the companies and to designate $50,000 for additional legal help to continue pursuing legal action against the companies.
Forty-three property owners have already filed an appeal with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency with the help of their lawyer, Gerald Phillips, on the basis that a permit granted to French Creek BioEnergy LCC was granted with false information provided by the company. Phillips and the trustees’ attorney, Lorain County Assistant Prosecutor Gerald Innes, have already issued a cease-and-desist letter to the company and the property owner to halt operations until the trustees can further examine the townships zoning laws.
Before Christmas, residents learned that a manmade pond built on a farmer’s land on Quarry Road was not an irrigation source, as initially assumed, but would contain 6 million gallons of treated human waste, or sludge.
Quasar Chief Operating Officer Clemens Halene has said the science behind the pond and how sludge is used is not new and is beneficial to the environment — a byproduct of the sludge can be used as fertilizer — and methane gas, released during a process to break down the sludge, is captured as energy.
But some 73 residents say that they don’t want the treatment facility anywhere near their homes, and they made sure the trustees knew it during Monday’s meeting.
Mark McConnell, chairman of the board of trustees, assured residents that the township would not be going down without a fight.
“All I can say … is we don’t intend to go into this and lose,” he said.
Halene declined Monday to comment on the appeal or the allegations made by the Pittsfield residents against his company.
Innes told residents that he and Phillips had determined that a permit application filed by French Creek BioEnergy contained several inaccuracies. He said the application labeled the lagoon as “industrial” when it was built in an area zoned residential and agriculture, nonindustrial.
“We have made the determination that the use is not agricultural, so we’ve determined that it’s not a permitted use,” he said.
Innes added that the pond for the storage lagoon was illegally dug before approval from the Ohio EPA. The appeal states that the permit was also approved on incorrect coordinates provided to the Ohio EPA by the company and that the pond was built on an area that has been designated a wetland.
Against the wishes of the residents and their attorney, Phillips, Innes said he did not recommend going through with a moratorium, which would delay “something that was already allowed.”
“If it’s our position that it’s already illegal, it doesn’t make sense for us to file a moratorium,” he said.
“This could come back and bite us, because I know how lawyers are.”
Phillips said he believed a moratorium was needed, however, and called the trustees to take a harder look at the township’s zoning laws, which he said were flawed.
“You’ve got some weaknesses in it, and I’d prefer not to state them in a public meeting,” he said.
After a brief executive session, trustees decided to continue with their moratorium approved last week until they could confer with additional attorneys. Innes told the audience to expect French Creek BioEnergy to fight the appeal.
“I anticipate they are going to fight it,” he said. “They said they’ve put $200,000 into this already.”
Quarry Road resident Joyce Snyder, who estimates she lives approximately 300 yards from the hole that was designed for the sludge lagoon, said she was pleased with the outcome of Monday’s meeting and with the moratorium that is temporarily in place.
Snyder was one of the first people to find out about the sludge pond and has been researching the science behind the lagoon since late December.
“I know more about s— than I care,” she said. “I don’t think people realize what the health risks are.”
Phillips said the case could be potentially far-reaching.
“This is a case that has some novel issues,” he said. “I don’t know if it will go all the way to the Supreme Court, but it has that potential.”
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.