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West Louisville Biofuel Plants Plan Met With Resistance

An Indiana-based renewable energy company has begun trying to sell West Louisville residents on a proposal to build two biofuel sites in the area.

It’s not going well.

Nature’s Methane's proposed plant would convert organic waste into methane —a natural gas—on Maple Street.

West Louisville residents are expressing concerns that the plant would bring odor, health risks and unsightly infrastructure to the neighborhood. They also question why the plant must be built in such a densely populated area.

But company officials say the plant works best if it's in a densely populated area because it's closer to the source of organic feed. The company's representatives say they'll address residents' concerns as they gather information before moving forward with their plans.

At a meeting Thursday for neighbors of the proposed site, about a dozen residents voiced concerns and outright objections to the proposed "anaerobic digestion” facilities, including Louisville Metro Councilwoman Mary Woolridge.

Woolridge said several times throughout the meeting that she will do whatever it takes to stop the plants from being approved. The company is still in the early stages of obtaining a conditional use permit through the city.

Mark Stoermann, the chief operating officer at Nature's Methane, said these community meetings were part of that process.

“It’s not part of our goal to bring something in and just drop it here,” Stoermann said.  “We want to become part of the community and part of supporting the community, but initially that starts with a business plan and an opportunity and then you have to educate people and sometimes new things are difficult and sometimes they meet a lot of resistance.”

This resistance stems from a belief among residents that West Louisville – a densely-populated, mostly black, urban neighborhood—was chosen because no one else wanted it in their neighborhood.

Woolridge told company officials this wasn’t just a perception, but that many residents are worried they are getting “dumped on” because the area isn’t as wealthy as other areas of Louisville. She also said bringing in waste from other parts of the city into these neighborhoods is counterproductive to the area’s efforts to reduce the number of industrial plants and pollution.

“That is the most concern, I think, that the residents have,” said Dana Tinsley, a resident of the Shawnee neighborhood who attended the meeting. “It’s just trucking in garbage to an area where we are trying to truck out garbage. We don’t need anymore.”

Among many other concerns are health risks from emissions and odors, as well as the unsightliness of the digester tanks, which will be about 40 feet tall and 65 feet in diameter.

Ultimately, most residents in the meeting said they were baffled as to why the company chose an area that was so densely populated.

“I mean I respect the idea of recycling—I really do,” Tinsley said. “I just think there is a better place for it than in such an urban, highly densely populated area.”

But Stoermann said that densely populated areas actually make the best areas for this type of biofuel plant. First, he said it’s useful to be close to the source of the organic feed as well as where the output for the natural gas will go.

“The more consolidated it can be, the better we can keep everything together and avoid spending resources on transportation, the better the renewable fuels and renewable energy can be used in the community,” Stoermann said.

The Maple Street site would be right across from the Heaven Hill distillery. If approved, the organic waste from the distillery will be fed directly to the digestion facility.

The other digester site is proposed for the West Louisville Food Port, which is between Market Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard at 30th Street. The plan is that food waste from the port would go directly to the plant.