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Metro Council Sets Limits On New Biodigesters In Louisville

methane

Developers seeking to build anaerobic biodigesters in Louisville are now barred from doing so within one mile of a residential home.

The Louisville Metro Council approved the new regulation in a 17-0 vote at its regular meeting Thursday night. The vote comes after a months-long fight over the development of two proposed biodigesters in West Louisville neighborhoods.

Anaerobic biodigesters convert organic waste — such as food or manure — to methane gas. The technology is touted as a way to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the city’s landfill, as well as a renewable way to create natural gas.

One of the proposed projects would have been part of the West Louisville FoodPort in Russell; it was scuttled last August. The other biodigester was planned near the Heaven Hill distillery in the California neighborhood and would have processed waste from that facility. The company behind the project — STAR BioEnergy — canceled it in January after months of opposition.

Residents cited concerns about about odors from the plant, as well as the implications of putting another industrial site so close to a heavily residential neighborhood.

Council members leading the charge against the biodigesters were Democrats David James, Mary Woolridge, Barbara Shanklin and Vicki Aubrey Welch.

"This is a big win for all of us," Woolridge said after the vote.

In a statement, James and Shanklin praised the ordinance, saying it would allow all residents of Louisville the chance to "live in neighborhoods that enhance their quality of life."

Councilwoman Angela Leet, a Republican, pushed against the strict regulations. She said she's against a ban on green technology, but she ultimately opted against voting down the regulations — she voted "present."
The regulations allow an anaerobic digester to be located only in areas zoned M-3, which is designated for heavy industrial use. No permit would be issued if the facility is less than one mile from a residential area and commercial establishments involving children, the sick and indigent.

Under the ordinance, a conditional use permit would have to be approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustment for any new biodigester. No waivers could be granted for the one mile distance.

A proposal submitted last month from the city's planning staff recommended limiting biodigesters to certain areas within a half-mile of residences. The stricter regulations approved Thursday ultimately leave little room for the development of such projects moving forward.

Brian Zoeller, an attorney representing STAR BioEnergy, said earlier this month that regulating biodigesters "would significantly hamper the city’s sustainability goals of diverting significant amounts of material from the landfill.”

The ordinance still requires approval from Mayor Greg Fischer. A spokesman for Fischer's office said "we will be reviewing the ordinance."

Fourth District Councilman David Tandy abstained from the vote. Four members were absent. And four members voted "present."

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.