Landfill neighbors want gas power on ballot

MILAN TWP. Public officials across Ohio agree: The state must develop green energy jobs.
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

MILAN TWP.

Public officials across Ohio agree: The state must develop green energy jobs.

It's been a mantra for Gov. Ted Strickland and many local officials.

Frustrated Erie County officials, however, say their efforts to develop a green power project at Erie County's landfill has run into another roadblock.

A project to move a landfill gas company from Norwalk to Erie County seemed to be on track after Milan Township trustees voted 3-0 May 28 to rezone 3.77 acres of county landfill from agricultural to light industrial zoning.

Residents opposing the rezoning hired Columbus lawyer Sarah L. Herbert. Herbert has written to Milan Township saying clients are circulating a petition to put the rezoning decision on the ballot.

"There always seems to be a roadblock that pops up, or two or three or five," said Sparky Weilnau, one of the township trustees who approved the rezoning.

Jack Meyers, sanitary engineer for Erie County, said the rezoning should create five jobs after Bio-Gas Technologies moves from Norwalk to Erie County.

Erie County officials have for years sought an energy project that would harness the methane gas produced by rotting garbage at the landfill.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and county officials are burning it in a flare to obtain carbon credits for reducing global warming.

Bio-Gas Technologies is supposed to produce electricity by burning the gas in a generator, turning the landfill into a source of alternative energy.

Meyers said that besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, landfill gas power production would provide energy from a renewable source and would provide revenue for the landfill, helping the county keep landfill rates down.

The project would generate property taxes for Milan Township and Milan schools, Meyers said. Relocating the project to land with existing industrial zoning would add $200,000 to the cost because it would require more gas line pipes, he said.

Property owners who protested the zoning decision accused the county of spot zoning. They also said it was wrong for the county to sell the land to Bio-Gas Technologies for just $1.

If the company doesn't set up shop on the land and create the jobs, the land will revert back to Erie County, said Mike Bixler, Erie County's administrator.

Weilnau noted that the township's zoning board had approved the rezoning. The township trustees would have had to vote unanimously to overturn the decision.

Instead, trustees voted 3-0 to back the board's decision and let the project go forward.

"We have an obligation to the citizens to try to do something more with this gas than just vent it into the atmosphere," Weilnau said. "I was willing to change the zoning to make that happen."

Herbert did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

A petition seeking a vote would have to be filed with Milan Township's clerk. The clerk, James Verbridge, did not return calls Monday.

According to the Energy Information Administration, landfill gas provided 1,034 megawatts of electrical power net capacity in the U.S. in summer 2007. Wind power provided 15,616 megawatts, but solar power provided only 498 megawatts.