Suit: Food waste-to-energy plant owes $5M

FREMONT, Mich. (WOOD) — The $22 million Fremont plant that turned food scraps into green energy, which has been shut down since early this year, is facing a lawsuit claiming it owes its builder nearly $5 million.

DeMaria Building Company Inc. of Novi sued Fremont Community Digester and others in Newaygo County Circuit Court, claiming the plant paid only $14.4 million of the $19.4 million it cost to finish the work in late 2012.

The builder also has placed a construction lien on the property, court records show.

An attorney for the plant refused to comment about the pending lawsuit, though he said it is not the reason the plant is closed.

In a written statement to 24 Hour News 8, attorney Eric Scheible said the plant “performed well through late 2014 when severe winter conditions in West Michigan caused the plant to temporarily idle. We are working diligently to bring the plant back up again.”

He did not respond when asked for details on how the weather caused the shutdown or when asked when the plant would reopen.

Novi Energy opened the plant in late 2012 with help from a $12.8 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fremont city officials said they learned in January that it had shut down over a dispute over ownership.

The plant was designed to take in 100,000 tons of waste each year from West Michigan food processors, most notably nearby baby-food producer Gerber Products Co., and turn that into energy.

Michigan Freeze Pack, of Hart, was among the food processors that counted on the plant, sending it 100,000 pounds of vegetable scraps per day during the summer.

“It was a very good thing for us,” Ron Clark of Michigan Freeze Pack said Tuesday.

Clark said the plant at first charged nothing to haul away scraps.

“At first, they were just going to come and take it away at no charge, period,” he said. “But then they started charging us a surcharge for gas, labor, and the last couple years it’s went up a little bit.”

Still, he said, it was cheaper than paying to dump the scraps onto local farm fields.

“It saved us time, it saved us labor, it saved us money,” he said. “So our hope is that it does come back online.”

“I’ve been over to the facility, and it’s a shame that something that is that elaborate is just going to sit there,” Clark continued. “TThere’s a lot of tax dollars involved in it, and it’s just a shame if it doesn’t reopen.”

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