WESTFIELD TOWNSHIP — The next legal step has been taken by a group fighting the Renergy digester in southwest Morrow County.
Westfield Township is appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court regarding environmental hazards caused by the Renergy Digester and another group in Ohio is asking for signatures on an amicus brief petition.
An amicus brief, often referred to as Friends of the Court, is a persuasive legal document filed by a person or entity in a case, usually while the case is on appeal, in which it is not a party but has an interest in the outcome — typically the rule of law that would be established by the court in its ruling.
Westfield has lost two court rulings, the first coming 10 months ago.
Morrow County Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Elkin on Feb. 2 ruled in favor of Emerald Bioenergy (Renergy) in the trial brought against it by the Westfield Township Zoning Inspector.
This was the culmination of several years of complaints about the company dumping solid waste in its facility in Westfield Township. Last summer the company claimed it stopped that practice.
After a two-day bench trial, Elkin wrote: “The Court finds that Emerald is a public utility and is not subject to the zoning regulations of the Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s complaint for injunctive relief to enjoin Defendant, Emerald, from the use of non-agricultural feedstocks is denied.”
An Oct. 28 decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
The amicus brief states the following:
“It is a step closer to fighting the offensive odor from the biodigesters, biosolid land application, and open air lagoons in Bath Township. Join the fight to demand the process is further studied, odors and chemicals are properly contained, an emergency spill plan is in place. Citizens should be and have not yet been provided with transparent information about the possible effects the biodigester and its production can have on their health, the environment and the water supply.”
The brief was filed on behalf of Bath Township in southwest Ohio and Westfield Township. There is a similar biodigester in Greene County called Dovetail.
The Bath Biodigester Concerned Citizens group calls itself “a grassroots movement made up of citizens who have been negatively impacted by the Renergy owned and operated digester in Greene County. This group which is ever growing, but currently approaching 900 members, organized in response to the real human impact this facility is having on our community.”
The document also says: “The health and safety as well as the right to enjoyment of both communities could be at risk.”
This brief has been shared in a Change.org petition that seeks support.
It also states: “Dovetail and Emerald (in Morrow County) filed in court that they were a public utility to get around local zoning regulations. Morrow County and Bath Township filed appeals to their local appeals courts. Morrow County appeals district came back first and upheld the lower court’s ruling that they are a public utility. We’re still waiting on our local appeals court to probably rule the same way. In the meantime, Morrow County is appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court. We want to support their effort, as they would for us, by filing an amicus brief (friends of the court document).”
In summary, the group writes:
“Because of the court’s rulings, a precedent is being set that allows this nuisance causing industry to build multi-acre open lagoons of feces and rotting materials, with massive methane filled digester facilities, literally anywhere, with no documented plan for disposal. If a “public utility” designation is given in Ohio, what is to stop this misery from being dumped on communities across the state?
“There is a market for cheap disposal of the materials being processed in these facilities, and we believe proper zoning and regulation is a necessity to prevent literal trains of biosolid sludge from being shipped in from all over the country to be dumped in massive lagoons in our backyards, only 300 feet from the nearest occupied dwellings.”
Renergy opened its local facility in September 2013.