MOUNT GILEAD — Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Elkin ruled in favor of Emerald Bioenergy (Renergy) in the trial brought against it by the Westfield Township Zoning Inspector and represented by former Morrow County Prosecutor Charles S. Howland.
“The Court finds that Emerald is a public utility and is not subject to the zoning regulations of the Plaintiff,” Elkin wrote in the opinion filed Feb. 1. “Plaintiff’s complaint for injunctive relief to enjoin Defendant, Emerald, from the use of non-agricultural feedstocks is denied.”
The ruling came after a two-day bench trial before Elkin that concluded on Dec. 29. Both sides then filed written closing arguments with the court.
The company has come under criticism over the past two years from township residents who are upset with the strong odor and increased traffic near the biodigester facility.
In the 13-page judgment entry, it states: “Emerald asserts that it is not subject to township zoning on the basis that it is an agricultural concern and/or that it is a public utility.”
It cites testimony given by expert witness John Bentine regarding what constitutes “operating as a public utility under the common law definition.”
The ruling also maintained that, “As long as Emerald Bionergy, LLC uses at least 50 percent of its feedstock from hog manure generated through Ringler Feedlots, LLC, and Ringler Livestock, LLC, it qualifies as land used exclusively for agricultural purposes and is not subject to zoning.”
The township had sought to limit Emerald to process only animal manure from domestic livestock in accordance with Westfield’s definition of agriculture. The Plaintiff had argued that Emerald is an industrial concern and, as such, is subject to township zoning.
Emerald opened here in September 2013. It is currently taxed as a public utility status by the Morrow County Treasurer.
A cease and desist order was issued by the county prosecutor’s office in September 2019. Howland said at that time the bio-digester violated township zoning regulations.
The company filed an appeal and has continued to operate. The company said in an Aug. 19 news release that it would stop accepting municipal solid waste at both its Dovetail and Emerald facilities as of October. Officials confirmed that during testimony.
N. Trevor Alexander and Catherine A. Cunningham represented Emerald.