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Supervisor calls for manure digester operator to withdraw

By Dave Delozier, ddelozier@wisctv.com
Published On: Aug 15 2014 05:19:31 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 16 2014 05:07:57 PM CDT

Four incidents in nine months is enough for one Dane County supervisor. Tim Kiefer from Waunakee, is calling on Clear Horizons LLC, the operator of the manure digester to voluntarily end its contract with the county. Reported by News 3's Dave Delozier.

WAUNAKEE, Wis. -

Following a series of four incidents in a nine-month period of time, a Dane County Supervisor is calling for the replacement of the company that operates the manure digester in the town of Vienna. 

Tim Kiefer, the supervisor representing District 25, has sent a letter to Jim Ditter, the CEO of Clear Horizons LLC, the company that operates the manure digester, and asked them to voluntarily terminate their contract with Dane County.

In the letter, Kiefer details a series of four incidents over the course of the last nine months that occurred at the facility. 

The first occurred on Nov. 24-25, 2013, in which 380,000 gallons of liquid manure spilled from the digester when a pipe burst. A small amount of that liquid reached nearby Six Mile Creek.

Less than two months later, on Jan. 20-21 another 20,000 gallons of liquid manure were spilled as a result of a burst pipe. 

Then on March 12, 35,000 additional gallons of liquid manure were spilled, again as a result of a burst pipe. The most recent incident occurred on Aug. 6 when one of the manure digester tanks caught fire. 

An explosion involving methane gas sent up a plume of black smoke that was visible throughout the area. The explosion and fire resulted in damage to the facility.

Kiefer said the latest incident further raised his concerns for public safety.

"Here you have something where people could easily have been injured or even killed. It takes it to another level," Kiefer said.

Following this latest incident Kiefer sent a letter to Ditter. 

"I sent it on Aug. 10.  I have yet to hear from Jim Ditter the CEO of Clear Horizons.  I'm waiting to hear from him, but the message of my letter is it is time for Clear Horizons to voluntarily withdraw from its contract," Kiefer said.

Clear Horizon's 15-year contract with Dane County was signed in June 2010.

The letter also states Clear Horizon is not meeting the minimum requirements for the removal of phosphorus from manure that is then spread on farm fields. It states the DNR requires that a minimum of 60 percent of the phosphorus be removed and 2013 Clear Horizons only was removing 44 percent. 

The letter goes on to state that through June 2014, only 33 percent was removed.

"I certainly have run out of patience with this and I think future steps are going to be taken if Clear Horizons does not agree to voluntarily leave," Kiefer said.

Kiefer said it is important for the public to understand the importance the manure digester can play in improving the environment.

"Manure digesters can work and are a very important part of cleaning up our lakes and what I don't want to have happen is have the disaster that Clear Horizons has essentially created here allow people to think manure digesters overall are a bad thing because they are not. 

They are a really good idea but we need to have a competent operator in place and Clear Horizons is proven that they are not that competent operator and they need to go," Kiefer said.

News 3 contacted the media representative for Clear Horizons for response to Supervisor Kiefer's concerns. That media representative deferred comment to Ditter and provided a contact number where he could be reached.

A voice message was left on Ditter's cellphone requesting comment on this issue.  To this point he has not returned that call.

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