MOUNT GILEAD — Renergy CFO Mike Oberfield took the stand for nearly an hour Tuesday morning in Common Pleas Court as the bench trial centering around the company’s zoning status concluded.
Oberfield, questioned by Morrow County Prosecutor Charles Howland, said the company no longer receives biosolids at its biodigester.
He cited “community concerns that were quite public” and uncertainty of EPA regulations.
Prosecutor Charles Howland argued before the court this is “a change of use situation” that began as agricultural.
Judge Tom Elkin gave the prosecution 14 days to file its concluding brief, with the defense then given an additional 14 days to respond. Elkin will rule after those documents are reviewed.
Two village of Cardington officials testified about sewer sludge contract with Renergy. It was cancelled this summer by the company. The village then opted to send its waste to a landfill.
Village administrator Danny Wood said Renergy informed the village it was no longer accepting sewer sludge this past summer.
“They gave us time to find an alternative,” Wood said. The village opted for a landfill to dispose of its municipal waste.
Wood said the village had paid $1,191 per load but then incurred a “nearly 40 percent increase” from Renergy.
Oberfield said Renergy operates an aerobic digester, “a closed air system” in Westfield Township.
He confirmed the company no longer receives biosolids, only food waste and animal manure.
“We only take organic waste,” Oberfield testified.
Much of the testimony centered around the process that Renergy uses — what goes into the biodigester and what comes out of it.
Oberfield said the company had not received any zoning violations until Sept. 25, 2019, when the township zoning inspector sent it one.
“We felt we were exempt. We appealed immediately,” he said.
“Our goal is to work with the community. We shifted operations to comply and are focusing on ag feedstock. We reduced biosolids and moved toward food waste and ag waste.”
Oberfield said the company made an initial investment of about $5.5 million in the local facility.
John Bentine testified as an expert witness in the afternoon. He said Renergy has been a public utility since 2015.
Bentine is an attorney with an extensive background in energy.
“No doubt in my mind … these folks (Renergy) are a public utility facility,” he said. “Emerald is a statutory public utility in Ohio.”
Bentine added that the energy industry has changed.
“The electric industry today is very diversified.”
The company has come under fire over the past two years from local residents who are concerned with the odor and increased traffic at the facility.
Howland addressed the odor issue, to which Bentine responded, “All reduction of waste has an odor, including coal plants, wastewater, etc.”
Bentine described Renergy’s operation.
“A solid waste conversion facility is not a solid waste facility,” he said.