Lowell City Council moves to shutdown smelly biodigester

A special meeting of the Lowell City Council regarding Lowell Energy AD's biodigester on Dec. 1, 2016.

LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — For months, residents in Lowell have been fed up with the foul odor coming from the biodigester on the west side of the city. They liken it to raw sewage and roadkill. Now, city officials plan to shut it down for good.

Lowell City Council and city-owned Lowell Light & Power announced three motions at Thursday night’s special meeting that signify their efforts to shutdown the biodigester. The plant is owned and operated by Lowell Energy AD, a private company.

The Lowell Energy AD biodigester. (Aug. 22, 2016)
The Lowell Energy AD biodigester. (Aug. 22, 2016)

In short, the motions that were unanimously approved call to revoke the company’s wastewater discharge permit, terminate the lease on the building and terminate the contract with the company.

Residents waited for nearly an hour for the announcement after officials went behind closed doors to talk with the city attorney. During the open portion of the meeting, it became clear — this has long been much more than just an inconvenience for the people who live near the biodigester.

“It’s flat out nasty,” one resident said.

“The arrogant disregard for the health of the community and the children is stunning,” another added.

“No more talk about working it out — this whole idea was stupid,” a third chimed in.

The saga began in the fall of last year. That’s when the nasty odor being emitted by the waste-to-energy biodigester was first noticed.

Lowell Energy AD was cited and fined several times this summer, and eventually given a Nov. 1 deadline to fix the problem and stop the rancid smell — or cease operations until they do.

But the fix didn’t work. For the past week, the company has been pumping sludge out of the plant to try to clean up and clear out the odor. Another problem this weekend brought back the stench — even though the plant isn’t currently operating.

The company did not show up to Thursday’s special meeting, instead issuing a statement with their steps to resolve the issue.

But city officials clearly weren’t convinced. Especially after being challenged by a large crowd of frustrated residents.

“I’m shocked and I’m floored and… we let you down. And I apologize,” Tina Siciliano-Cadwallader, a board member with Lowell Light & Power, told residents at the meeting.

“This has been a black eye on the city,” city manager Michael Burns told 24 Hour News 8 after the motions were announced.

“People who have suffered the most, obviously, are the residents who live in that area and the students who attend Bushnell elementary. And I think city council and Lowell Light & Power listened to the residents this is affecting… and took an aggressive stance this evening,” he continued.

It’s not immediately clear how Lowell Energy AD will respond. Burns said he hopes the city isn’t taken to court, but they are prepared if the company takes legal action.

Burns said the city wants a mutual break with the company. The motions at hand give Lowell Energy AD until mid-January to terminate the lease and the contract themselves.