Neighbors say stench from Heartland Biogas plant in Weld County is so bad, it wakes them up at night

County Commissioners postpone decision
Posted at 12:27 AM, Sep 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-21 02:27:39-04

Neighbors who live near the Heartland Biogas Project, east of La Salle, say the stench is so bad it wakes them up at night.

They’ve asked County Commissioners to address the problem.

The County has received 266 complaints about the plant, since November 10, 2015.  (Multiple complaints from 20 different locations.)

According to HDR, the company that designed the anaerobic digester facility for EDF Renewable Energy, the plant converts cow manure from local dairies and organic waste from restaurant grease traps, spoiled grocery store products, cafeteria waste and food processing residuals into renewable natural gas.

EDF Renewables spokeswoman Sandi Briner told Denver7 that the plant also produces commercial compost and nutrient rich water.

Neighbors say they supported the project at first, after receiving a letter from AGPROfessionals, LLC in 2009 which stated in part: “The digestion process will occur within sealed concrete vessels installed below ground level.  The methane gas will be cleaned and compressed within enclosed manufacturing equipment and there will be no emission of noxious odors from the facility.”

AGPROfessionals assisted with the development of the facility.

Neighbors say the letter was misleading.

They say they’ve been dealing with a horrendous odor problem for a year and a half.

“It’s more of a putrid smell, I guess,” said neighbor Nancy Flippin. “It does burn the nose, burns the eyes and will make you nauseated too.”

Flippin says she’s used to normal agricultural smells in Weld County and notes there is a dairy farm up the road.

“This is nothing like that,” she said.  “We have to keep our windows closed at night because (the odor) will come in, in the middle of the night, and wake you up.”

Neighbor Russ Justice told Denver7 the odor is intolerable.

“I own a (trucking) business a little north of here,” he said. “I’ve got guys that have quit because they just can’t take the smell.”

On Monday, County Commissioners heard from concerned residents and from plant officials.

The plant manager wasn’t available to talk to Denver7, but an EDF spokeswoman in California said, “EDF Renewable Energy is fully committed to following best management practices by designing engineering controls around all major odor sources.”

Justice said company officials originally told him they didn’t know where the odors were coming from.

“They’ve been operating for a year and a half,” he said. “They should know where the odors are coming from.”

Justice said plant officials told Commissioners that they’re only operating at 40 percent capacity right now, and hope to be at 100 percent by the middle of next year.

He said he can’t help but wonder if the smell will get worse.

“We shouldn’t have to live with this odor for ten more months,” he said. “It’s just wrecking everyone’s lifestyle.”

Flippin said it's gotten to the point where neighbors look out their windows to see which direction the wind is blowing, before deciding whether to go out and work in their garden, or have a cup of coffee outside.”

The Commissioners declined to comment about the issue because the hearing, which started Monday, has been continued until mid-November.

Commissioners will decide whether to ask the company to reduce odors on its own, suspend the land-use permit until improvements are made, or to revoke the permit altogether.

Part of the issue is that the facility has only been in violation of the odor limit once since April 2016.

Justice says it shouldn't have been built where it is.

"There are miles and miles of Weld County that have nothing," he said. 

He added that the owners should have built it elsewhere.

"They shouldn't have come here and promised us, 'no odor," he said.