Lowell residents deal with smelly biodigester; operator plans fixes

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LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — An anaerobic biodigester designed to create energy for Lowell Light and Power is instead creating headaches.

A biodigester that sits in the middle of Lowell isn’t working properly, and instead emits a horrible smell that’s permeating through the area.

The smell has gotten so bad Lowell Light and Power moved to hold a public meeting with residents Wednesday evening to hear concerns over its operations.

“It shouldn’t run until you have this figured out. You’re experimenting on this community. We’re tired of it. It smells bad. It’s affecting lives,” resident Steven Browning told board members in front of a group of frustrated community members.

In December 2013 a 10-year lease was approved for Sustainable Partners LLC, or “SPART”, to build the anaerobic digester. It’s a technology common in Germany, and city officials traveled to that area to learn more before approving plans.

SPART principal and managing partner for the digester Greg Northrup assured residents the technology would prevent any smells from leaking into the air, which officials like Mayor Jeff Altoft said helped them agree to the plans.

“We were almost guaranteed there would be no smell and this has smelled since the day it started. We didn’t sign up to have to live next to this,” Altoft told Northrup.

The groundbreaking happened February 2014, with reports of the stench dating back as far as September 2015 once it was up and running, according to meeting minutes.

Northrup told attendees manufacturers from Germany will travel to Lowell this Saturday to survey the digester, because they have not been able to pin point the source of the smell yet.

“We’re kind of in an area where we’re looking for the manufacturer to give us that extra level of expertise. They’re the ones that designed the systems. They know where the faults are,” Northrup told 24 Hour News 8.

He added that when working properly no oxygen should be inside the container, meaning the smell must have something to do with a break down in the structure.

“If I had to live here I’d be just as upset as they are and when I talked to the Germans about challenges were facing and the importance I told them they’d be just as upset too,” Northrup said. “It’s unacceptable so our business is let’s get it fixed.”

This weekend’s planned efforts are too little too late for residents who say they’ve dealt with the smell since last summer.

“It’s gotten to the point where I know myself and other community members have even stated that it’s affecting our quality of life. I can’t sleep at night because of it. It give us headaches,” Browning told 24 Hour News 8.

They want it shut down immediately.

“It’s been going on too long. They need to shut it down until they can prove to the community — prove not promise — that we’re done going through this. That it’s not going to happen anymore,” Browning said.

Northrup assured residents and 24 Hour News 8 the German manufacturers will be staying in Lowell as long as needed to fix the problem.

There was a closed session at the end of that meeting Wednesday night for the city to explore legal options. Mayor Altoft told 24 Hour News 8 residents can expect an update on details discussed in that closed session to be released Monday.

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