West Louisville voices outrage over two proposed anaerobic digesters

Nearly 100 community activists and concerned citizens met with representatives of Seed Capital and Nature’s Methane Thursday to discuss two anaerobic digesters proposed to be built in West Louisville.

The two proposed digesters would act as large, industrialized composters for Jefferson County’s food waste. Generating methane for use as a natural gas, compost for farming and waste-water to be treated and returned back into regular circulation.

Representatives of Nature’s Methane touted the two proposed digesters as a green initiative that would not only benefit the Louisville environment but also recycle materials usually sent to the landfill to rot.

Seems straightforward enough, except for the fact that these digesters would be located in two major residential areas, the California and Russell neighborhoods of West Louisville.

This raised concerns from REACT Louisville (an environmental justice group), the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1, as well as the Louisville Urban League and Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3 who hosted the event.

“[In West Louisville] We’ve had 50 years of us feeling discarded, feeling dumped on, feeling left behind. And we don’t want to be Louisville’s guinea pig anymore,” said Councilwoman Green. “And while [these digesters] may be better for Louisville overall. I’m worried about West Louisville, because West Louisville lives matter too.”

The concerns voiced at the meeting were numerous:

• Safety Risks — Concerns ranged from the basic (potential failure of safety mechanisms or pipelines resulting in fires or explosions) to the extreme (potential targeting of the digesters by domestic terrorists).

• Health Risks — Concerns about the increased traffic (25 to 30 trucks filled with food waste are expected to travel through the neighborhoods each day) and the effects this increase in traffic will have on West Louisville’s air quality.

• Quality of Life — Concerns about increased noise, odors and the potential flooding of sewer systems due to the large amount of waste-water generated by the digesters.

• Benefit to the Community — Questions were raised about how these projects would directly benefit the West Louisville community. (Representatives of Nature’s Methane said the two digesters would only create 10 jobs apiece.)

Representatives of Nature’s Methane said that they had been working with the city on alleviating the congestion these trucks may cause; that all trucks would be sealed to prevent any spillage or odor; that all food would be unloaded inside the facilities to help contain the odor; that the air inside the facility would be filtered three times every hour; that no food waste or compost would be stored at the facility; and that they were working with MSD on the potential flooding issue.

But about an hour into the meeting, the representatives of Nature’s Methane grew quiet as the community began to grow more agitated with them.

At one point, John Owen (president of the Portland Business Association) took over the meeting and began walking up and down the aisle speaking freely with everyone about the many times companies have made promises to West Louisville only to break them. He also questioned the city’s deal with Seed Capital that granted them 24 acres of vacant land for the Foodport for $1.

And as the community continued to raise their concerns, often with little to no response by representatives of Nature’s Methane, many began to wonder why they had come to this meeting at all.

“I’m not a preacher. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a doctor. I am the community,” said Mayetta Brawliss, resident of West Louisville. “And I want to know, as we say no, are you listening? Will it make a difference?”

As she sat down many began to shout “Take it to St. Matthews!” and “Take it to Prospect!” or simply “We don’t want it!”

But as of this meeting, Nature’s Methane has already applied for the necessary permits to begin work on their two $40 million projects. And since one digester is planned to be built for Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. (a private company on private land) and the other along with the Louisville Foodport (a major initiative of Mayor Fischer), one has to question whether the voices of those at the meeting will be heard and considered.

Another meeting was set to be held by Councilman David James, D-6, at the California Community Center, but it has been postponed with more details to come.