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Community divided over proposed digester coming to Waupaca County

A well-known northeast Wisconsin dairy farm is hoping to bring a digester to its operation to transform food waste and manure into renewable energy, but some neighbors are concerned.
Brooks Dairy Farm owners say they're looking forward to bringing a digester to their operation.
Posted at 5:09 AM, Dec 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-04 08:30:57-05

TOWNSHIP OF LIND (NBC 26) — After countless phone calls, text messages, emails and private messages through social media, we're working to learn more about a proposed digester coming to Lind.

While most community members support the idea of renewable energy, some neighbors in the Lind area have questions about an operation that requires manure and food waste to make renewable energy.

"The renewable natural gas, the limited food waste that we won't have to send to the landfills, proper handling of the manure on our farm. We want to be better dairy farmers too, and properly handling that waste resource," Brooks Farm Assistant Herd Manager Sydney Howard said.

Howard took time from her morning and walked me through their operation to share the benefits a digester would bring to the farm and community.

"We are so excited this innovative dairy technology is coming to our community," Howard said.

However, some neighbors are concerned a system to transform food waste and manure into renewable gas and fertilizer could be harmful to the community.

"We're setting ourselves up for a lot of loss and a lot of damage to our natural resources, because there isn't any oversight. I think we're a big green light to have corporations to come in and do this to us, and we've woken up, and once you wake up and dive into this information it changes you," Lind community member Laurie Knutzen said.

Laurie Knutzen and Victoria Gehrke have been compiling information to learn more about Vanguard Renewables. That's the company working with Brooks Dairy Farm to break ground on the project.

Vanguard Renewables Chief Strategy Officer John Hanselmann says safeguards are in place to keep communities safe.

"There's all sorts of monitors and vents to make sure we're not releasing that, and that material when we take it, we dry it and we remove it, and we make sure all of it is sealed," Hanselmann said.

However, neighbors like Knutzen and Gehrke said they're not buying it.

"I'm concerned our town leadership has not really explored and dug deep enough to find the issues that go along with these projects," Gehrke said.

Others say they're looking forward to Vanguard breaking ground in Waupaca County.

"I'm excited about it. I think it's a great thing, and I think it's great for the community," Velonnie Fritz said.

"I think there's a great opportunity to excel and grow the farming community as well as the technology community. There's not a lot of technology in the area today, so this is a great opportunity," Kent Schaefer said.

"I think we have a really unique opportunity there—not just to just positively impact our local economy and environment, but globally as a whole. I think this will be able to show other communities like ours that you don't have to be a big city to have a positive impact globally," Allie Reichert said.

However, digester opponents say they're worried about its unintended effects.

"If something bad goes on, it's on us. If our wells go poor, it's also on us," Knutzen said.

"Any new technology can seem intimidating at first. We have taken the time to listen and answer questions from our community members, and we've heard questions about soil water and air quality. The co-digester is the solution to all of those areas, and it actually improves them," Howard said.

Not only has the proposed digester become a contentious matter in Waupaca County, but so has the location of tonight's public hearing.

A public hearing is set to get underway at the Lind Town Hall at 5 p.m., and some neighbors say they're concerned about a lack of space for everyone to attend and share their concerns.