Digester plant hires staff, engineers

April 24, 2014: Roberta Baumann- The Waunakee Tribune

The owners of the Town of Vienna manure digester plant that suffered three spills in the last six months have hired more staffing and contracted with outside engineers to improve operations.

Clear Horizons, LLC, owners and operators of the community digester has announced that the company is celebrating a “major environmental milestone” – the removal of 100 tons of phosphorus.

“Were it not for the digester, that phosphorus would have found its way onto land and some into waterways in Dane County,” said Monte Lamer, a manager with Clear Horizons.

A broken pipe in November released over 300,000 gallons of manure, and followed by two leaks afterwards.

The Department of Natural Resources had also found that the plant failed to remove 60 percent of the phosphorus from the manure, as its DNR permit specified.

In the announcement released last week, Clear Horizons noted that tests at the Crave Brothers Farm in Dodge County had found its digester could remove 60 percent of phosphorus. But the Vienna plant has the challenging of receiving manure from three different farms, each bedding animals with different materials, the release notes.

“It may take years to understand the impact different bedding materials have on all the equipment at the plant, from the centrifuge and phosphorus harvesting, to the pumps and pipelines moving the liquid,” the release states.

The plant processes 36 million gallons of manure per year for three different farms just north of Waunakee. It was built in partnership with Dane County in an effort to keep phosphorus, which produces algae, out of Lake Mendota.

Clear Horizons’ press release notes that the company has recently gone to staffing three shifts, seven days per week, and hired three new employees.

“The new employees come with valuable anaerobic digester and wastewater processing experience. They also improve on-site response and reduce redundancy, making the plant the first agriculture digester in Wisconsin at this level of monitoring and production,” the release notes.

Now the company can operate the dryer, load trucks and ship phosphorus-laden digester solids at all hours, Lamer said.

Several praised the operation for reaching the 100-ton phosphorus removal mark. Chuck Ripp’s dairy farm is among the three participating in the plant. Ripp is also secretary of the Yahara Pride Farms Conservation Group.

“We celebrate the value of the work done at the processing plant and want to add our congratulations for achieving this milestone,” Ripp said in the release.

Don Heilman, president of the Clean Lakes Alliance and director of Yahara Pride Farms, also praised the plant, downplaying the recent spills.

“We understand there have been some broken pipes over the winter, but Clear Horizons is investing on several fronts to address those,” Heilman said. “On balance, 30 pounds of phosphorus escaping into the watershed from this winter’s pipe burst pales in comparison to the large amount of phosphorus the plant has kept out of the lakes in less than three years of operation.”

One of the engineers contracted by Clear Horizons, Jacek Chmielewski, noted that several experts have been studying the plant.

“A full report on process stability, safety, communications and process controls, including a detailed implementation plan will be completed within the next 30 days,” Chmielewski said.

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Natalie EndresDigester plant hires staff, engineers