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Plans Scrapped for Methane Plant in West Louisville

J. Tyler Franklin

A company planning to locate an anaerobic biodigester in Louisville’s California neighborhood is canceling the project.

STAR BioEnergy announced on Thursday afternoon that the company is backing out of the multimillion-dollar project, which has been controversial from the beginning. In a news release, STAR representative Brian Zoeller said the company was seeking other sites for the project in the county and region.

"The company realizes it could have done a better job at the beginning of communicating what they do and how they work with communities," Zoeller wrote. "STAR should be seen as champions, not enemies, of the community."

The Indiana-based company proposed the biodigesters last year. Anaerobic digesters take organic material — such as food waste or manure — and generate natural gas, or methane.

Originally, two digesters were planned in West Louisville. One was at the FoodPort in the works at 30th and Market streets, and the other next to the Heaven Hill distillery at 17th and Maple streets.

In August, the company canceled the project at the FoodPort. But the biodigester at Heaven Hill continued to move forward, with the support of Mayor Greg Fischer and several community leaders. In November, Fischer and STAR BioEnergy announced an agreement that would funnel $5 million to the neighborhood and Simmons College.

But local residents and other elected officials remained opposed to the project. A group of city and state officials came out this week against the proposal.  The project would have been in Metro Councilman David James’ district; he said a major issue was its proximity to homes, and the potential that odor would have negatively affected residents’ quality of life.

“I think it’s a really bad idea,” James said in an interview last month. “Having that smell 125 feet from someone’s front door … I just can’t imagine it. I would not want it myself, and I know the people living there don’t want it.”

STAR BioEnergy was scheduled to appear before Louisville’s Board of Zoning Adjustment later this month for the second time, seeking a conditional use permit for the biodigester.

Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Councilsaid there were significant legal hurdles for the project, and it would create further environmental inequities in Louisville’s West End.

“It makes sense for [STAR BioEnergy], it makes sense for Heaven Hill if they can save a buck, but it doesn’t make sense for the folks in the surrounding areas who have every right to expect that their neighborhood would be free of significant odor problems as if they lived in Indian Hills,” he said.

Fischer said he had asked STAR to pull back on the proposal several weeks ago.

"Anaerobic digesters are a safe and sustainable way to diversify our energy portfolio and help the environment, and I trust our community will be able to find appropriate sites for this technology," Fischer said in a statement. "I appreciate the work of STAR and Heaven Hill to bring this green technology to our city. I also appreciate all of the community involvement that has led to this announcement today.”