Lowell City Council orders biodigester shut down

Waste-to-energy plant continues to stink, bothering residents

Lowell biodigester
The biodigester in Lowell. (Sept. 19, 2016)

LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — After months of dealing with a foul odor and countless meetings about fixing the stench, the Lowell City Council is putting its foot down.

At a public meeting Monday night, the council directed the city attorney and city manager to shut down the biodigester at the heart of the problem.

The stench has been described as a cross between human waste and decaying animal carcasses and has been hanging over the city for months. The company that runs the waste-to-energy plant, Lowell Energy AD, previously said that it had met the Nov. 1 deadline to get rid of the smell by installing a carbon filter system and duct work. But residents are still complaining of it and Lowell Energy AD has been cited four times since Nov. 5 as a result, with the new fines totaling some $1,200.

Monday, council members had a lot of questions for Webster Environmental, the company that Lowell Energy AD hired to help resolve the problem.

Lowell City Council, biodigester
Lowell city councilmembers discuss what to do about the Lowell biodigester. (Nov. 21, 2016)

“How can we convince everyone that it’s going to be OK?” council member Alan Teelander asked.

“Are you 100 percent confident that the system they have in place now will be completely odor-free?” Mayor Pro Tem Mike DeVore wondered.

They got honest answers.

“I will never say to any community that a system is going to be odor-free because it’s not possible,” Webster Environmental Vice President Bruce Koetter said.

But he also defended the systems he helped put in place.

“As far as the technology, I am completely confident in that technology for the odors that are going to that technology. And you know, I can’t think of anything else that I would do at that site that would improve the situation that we’re currently in,” he said.

It wasn’t enough to convince residents in attendance or council members.

Lowell City Council, biodigester
Lowell residents list to city councilmembers discuss what to do about the Lowell biodigester. (Nov. 21, 2016)

“I know that you’re an expert and everything, but you haven’t had to deal with this, sir. Neither have you, Mr. Northrup,” one resident said to Koetter and the plant’s general manager, Greg Northrup. “This has been terrible for us.”

“I sold a home and the client went to his inspections and backed out — not because of any problems with the home, but because of the biodigester smell,” Lowell resident Marlene Kroft added.

“I personally would like to see them halt operations because they have not held up their end of that agreement,” DeVore said.

The city attorney and city manager will need to get a court order to cease operations at the biodigester. Lowell Energy AD could appeal.