Nearly a month after Gov. Scott Walker announced an initiative to bring biodigesters into Kewaunee County to convert animal waste into electricity on a wide scale, county officials are still waiting to hear any details about the project.
Members of the Kewaunee County Land & Water Conservation Committee on Tuesday expressed concern about the proposal, which the governor announced Nov. 17 during a gathering at the Heritage Farm south of Kewaunee.
The governor said that the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would be working with the Department of Natural Resources and the Public Service Commission to develop a request for proposals to implement the project. The RFP should be able to be released to the public in early January, according to the news release from the governor’s office.
But Supervisor Lee Luft, a committee member from the town of Pierce, said officials have been given almost no information about what the project would mean for the community.
“To this day I am not aware of a single county elected official who has been informed about any of this. We simply don’t have the information. It couldn’t have been done a lot more poorly,” Luft said. “If you want the community to buy into a project which could exist here for generations – and it could be helpful – come forward with what that project is.”
Committee Chairman John Pagel told Luft he agreed “it was announced poorly. I don’t have any new information than the last time you and I talked about this, but they said we’re going to receive some information sometime in January, and so I guess I’m waiting for that new information.”
State officials hope to have something operational by the end of next year, Pagel said.
Luft said he had learned the PSC has allocated $20 million of ratepayer dollars and the rest of the costs would be privately funded. The public funds would come from ratepayer dollars that are collected by the PSC from utilities, and not taxes, he said.
A biogas plant in Weld County, Colo., has proved controversial, Luft said, drawing attention to a news article that indicated neighbors are very upset over stench from the plant after the firm pledged in 2009 “there will be no noxious odors.”
Pagel said he’s received information that the stench from the Colorado plant is coming from the “afterburners” from the anaerobic digester, not the digester itself.
“I don’t believe it’s comparing apples to apples,” he said.
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Pagel said the transition of issues from the now-defunct Groundwater Task Force to the Land & Water Conservation Committee will begin with the panel’s January agenda.
County Board Chairman Robert Weidner announced at the Task Force’s Dec. 7 meeting that its work was at a conclusion and that the LWC Committee, a standing County Board committee, would handle those issues from now on.
The decision was met with some skepticism from speakers during the Public Comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
“The Groundwater Task Force was extremely effective and instrumental in bringing together other county agencies to work for a common goal. However, it was effectively silenced on Dec. 7 – I wonder if that’s a day that will live in infamy,” Sue Weisser said, adding that in announcing the transition Weidner “stated that county officials will have every opportunity – every opportunity – to participate in continuing the efforts of the task force and also encouraged citizen participation. It remains to be seen if the energy and high level of concern and care of the Groundwater Task Force will transition to the Land & Water Conservation Committee.”
Formed to address solutions to the county’s groundwater issues, the Task Force was originally set up to last one year but continued operating another eight months beyond that. Discussion at the Task Force and LWC Committee had begun to repeat each other, more than one committee member said.
“Whatever issues that they were working on, which they’re important issues, should and can be handled by this committee,” Pagel said. “I don’t see any reason why they can’t.”