Cumberland Planners Defer Digester Action

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CUMBERLAND – The County's Planners decided on Monday evening to defer action on two applications submitted by Ag Renewable Resources LLC after questions were raised by citizens during the public hearing related to the renewable energy company using poultry litter to create fertilizer and energy.

Vice Chairman Dr. Bill Burger made a motion after hearing several presentations from County staff and the business to defer action until the Planning Commission's scheduled workshop on Monday, November 22.

That meeting will start at 6:30 p.m.

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“There were some issues raised here that I think we need to get some answers to,” said Dr. Burger. “For example, what about the accidents and what about the insurance? I propose that we table this until next week and by then we should have the answers to the questions that were asked and then we can do it the right way…”

After a clarification by Andrew Sorrell, the County's planning and zoning administrator, Dr. Burger then made a motion that the Commission “defer action” to Monday.

“Let's just defer,” he said about making a decision on Monday.

That motion was approved on a six to one vote. Planner Patty Pedrick voted in opposition of the motion to defer the action.

According to Sorrell, the Planning Commission will only take action on Monday regarding the conditional use permit application and will not hear additional public comments since a public hearing has already been held.

Public Hearings

“We are here tonight for two public hearings,” said Chairman Parker Wheeler about the zoning text amendment and conditional use permit applications submitted by the renewable energy company.

The first public hearing regarding the zoning text amendment was opened and there was one citizen who spoke in opposition.

After the hearing was closed, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt the zoning text amendment.

Concerning the public hearing on the conditional use permit submitted by Ag Renewable Resources, there were three letters received by the Commission related to the permit application and 10 speakers had signed up to address the Planners during the public hearing-six of those citizens spoke in favor of the Ag Renewable Resources business and four were in opposition.

The zoning text amendment was to add “manufacture of fertilizer” as a conditional use in M-1 (industrial zoning), according to Wheeler.

The conditional use permit is to allow for the facility that is slated to manufacture fertilizer and generate power to operate within the M-1 zoned area in the County's new business park on Poorhouse Road.

Ag Renewable Resources is proposing to construct a facility that will collect and receive mainly poultry waste from farmers within a 25-mile radius to use as feedstock where it will be blended with water and introduced into a digester tank, containing microbes, where the feedstock will undergo thermophilic anaerobic digestion, according to the presentation given by Ag Renewable Resources representative Daryl Bishop.

“It's a pretty exciting process…,” he said about the digestion project that will create a completely organic product.

He said this process would yield three products: bio-gas, a solid organic co-product (fertilizer that would be shipped west due to phosphorus content levels), and a liquid organic co-product (liquid fertilizer which could be utilized locally because it would contain no phosphorus.)

According to Sorrell, the renewable energy company and the staff have come to terms on 19 conditions that will run with the permit related to protecting nearby citizens.

Some of those conditions include noise control, odor control, screening and landscaping, building materials and height, light control, traffic control, County's right to conduct testing, and inspection and records.

“We looked at the by-product and the enclosed system,” said Bishop about the design that he described as environmentally friendly. “We don't want an odor problem… We went with this process…to eliminate not just the odor…”

The by-product will still have an odor but the process would be enclosed, he continued.

“The only odor we are going to have to be concerned about is keeping the trucks when coming in cleaned out…,” he said about the delivery trucks. “Anytime you mess with it, it will still be chicken litter. As they go in the facility and the door closes, the odor is going to be contained.”

The facility proposes to receive three trucks on a daily basis, noted Bishop.

County Attorney

At the beginning of the Commission's meeting, County Attorney Howard Estes noted that a concern had been raised at the last Board of Supervisors meeting regarding a conflict of interest of his firm representing Ag Renewable Resources LCC with its pending interest in the business park.

“My firm has previously disclosed representation of Ag Renewable Resources to the County this summer and received a waiver of any conflict of interest,” said Estes. “However, I do not believe that there is a conflict with Virginia state laws or ethical rules, I want to further disclose that I have not and will not nor has the County staff, Planning Commission, of Board of Supervisors sought legal advice regarding the conditional use application with code amendment requested by Ag Renewable Resources.”

He continued, “If discussed in closed session under FOIA I have and will continue to refuse myself from any such discussion as well as during the public hearing and any action on any motion pertaining thereto…”

Estes is a principal in the Richmond law offices of Estes & Associates.

According to comments made by Estes, he has also made the County aware that other counsel could be sought if needed during deliberations but that he is available to address any “procedural issues.”