Press conference with Upcycle Prez. reveals issues with EGLE
By Ken De Laat
In a press conference held virtually Generate Upcycle President Bill Caesar spoke to the recent decision to shut down operations at the Fremont Regional Digester citing regulatory changes that have made by the Water Division of the Michigan Dept of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)
“The liquid fertilizer we apply on fields known as digesting has been consistent since we began operating the site and there is no record that any digesting we have applied has ever contaminated groundwater,” said Caesar.
“In Michigan we worked effectively with the solid waste division of EGLE for the first 5 years we operated the Digester. In 2021 however, we received a letter from the Water Resource Division of EGLE informing us they were taking over for the solid waste division. We actively engaged with the team from the Water Resource Division and provided them with an extraordinary amount of data on the composition of our digestate, where we apply it and the conditions under which we apply it. The biggest change in the approach taken by the water resource unit is that they have asserted that the liquid fertilizer we produce and apply on agricultural fields must be regulated like an industrial pollutant, not a nutrient rich fertilizer. Their assertion runs contrary to the approach taken by every other state, province and country where we operate.”
Caesar stated that the new approach would require extensive changes in how, where and when digestate is applied.
“Farmers who choose to use our liquid fertilizer on their fields would lose the ability to make their own agronomic decisions about when they plant what they plant and how they apply other fertilizers to their farms. The farmers who use our digestrate, a sustainable, organic fertilizer instead of synthetic chemical fertilizer will essentially be penalized by the state of Michigan. Not only are the proposed changes to our permit prohibitively expensive, because huge portions of the fields we currently use would be off limits, but these regulations are also operationally impossible for us to comply with. The Water Resource Division seems to be trying to fix something that isn’t broken. After months of discussion with EGLE we made the very difficult decision to cease operations at the end of December unless and until we can operate under a rational regulatory approach.
“We do however think there’s a fix to this problem,”
The company is asking the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to replace the Water Resource Division of EGLE as the primary regulator for the digestate, ‘just as they are for all other fertilizers applied to farms in Michigan.’
“We would like to see MDARD EGLE and the Governor’s Office work together to build a durable regulatory structure for food waste based digesters that would not only enable us to make the incremental investments we currently have on hold.”
Facility Manager Leon Scott gave some information about the Digester and spoke about its importance to the community, including the ability to power 3500 homes. He also referenced the workers at the digester including his wife ,daughter and son-in-law and described them as passionate about the work being done at the facility.
Fremont City Manager Todd Blake also spoke to the benefits the FRD has provided to the community and the positive working relationship they have had with the city.
Then came the questions for Caesar..
What has EGLE specifically said is their primary concern?
“Primary concern is about groundwater contamination. They’re concerned about something getting into MI’s groundwater making it undrinkable.
“There has been no issue with over application. We have worked under a framework that limits the amount we can put on any field at any given time. I don’t believe there has been any question about what we’ve done in the past. What EGLE is trying to do with the new regulations is to limit to an even greater extent the amount of digestate we can apply. We apply on about 5000 acres of land and we do it in two periods a year: the spring and fall.”
Have any meetings been held with EGLE and/or MDARD as yet?
“We have not had any formal meetings with MDARD. We have expressed our interest directly to EGLE in a letter that I wrote to EGLE Director Phil Rouse. We understand that EGLE and MDARD have had at least one conversation about this but we do not know what came out of that conversation.”
EGLE says the digestate is primarily liquid waste not solid waste.
“The Digestate we produce is and has been and always will be primarily a liquid product. It has not changed its composition. Regulation of it as an industrial pollutant as opposed to a nutrient rich fertilizer, to me, has nothing to do whether it is liquid or not. We have heard assertions from some people at EGLE that the material we take in today is different from the material we took in when we first opened the digester, that the digestate we produce today is fundamentally different than than the digestate we were producing originally. That is false. Absolutely patented false. We submit a report to EGLE with exactly what materials we brought into the facility and where we applied it. It’s no mystery to them what we've been doing.”
Why was the decision made to close in December when EGLE has allowed the facility to continue operations until spring?
“We received the letter in December of 2021 saying the Water Resource Division was taking over for the solid resource division. We are 23 months into this process. In July of this year fully 20 months after we started this process we received the first draft permit from EGLE. We responded in detail about why it would not work for us.
“The EGLE team first arrived in Fremont to look at the site and to see the process of digesting application in September of this year. I cannot continue to run this site with the risk of the regulatory structure that they have proposed for us. We have been working on an extension since January of our original agricultural use authorization. They extended it once through June and again through December and offered to extend it again through March 21st.
“ Let me tell you why March 21st is a very interesting date. We are allowed to land apply our digestate at certain times of year. For the next 3 months I would be building up digestate for application in the spring without any clarity of what regulatory regime I would be required to match that digestate in. To me that’s unacceptable. I don’t think we’re going to find a solution with the approach EGLE has propositioned us with. The fact that they want to treat this as an industrial pollutant doesn’t work at all for the material we’re producing. I could continue to take extensions but it won’t solve the problem and I would have an unbounded financial risk by doing that.”
What explanation were you given as to why the regulation was moved to the Water Resource Group in the first place?
I’m going to fight the urge to be a little flippant here. EGLE determined that our digestate, which has always been a liquid, was a liquid. And would be better managed by the Water Resource group than the Solid Waste group. I don’t have another explanation.”
Asked about violations, Caesar stated they haven’t had any the last two years He stated in the 5 years previous they had a couple related to odors that were addressed by investing about a million dollars in creating covered lagoons to eliminate that problem.
It seems the ball has landed in the State’s court on this issue. Whether EGLE and/or MDARD step forward and respond to the concerns laid out by the Upcycle folks or not will go a long way in determining the future of the FRD.
Public Notice: The Family Health Care Grant Child & Adolescent Health Center Advisory Council will meet on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Peer Coach Room at Grant Middle School. The public is invited, and lunch will be provided. Please sign in at the school office when you arrive at the middle school. To RSVP, call (231) 834-1350. If you are unable to attend in person, you may access the meeting virtually at meet.google.com/VXG-OCBA-BQH or by calling (929) 251-5532 and using the PIN 560340384#.
EGLE shift may spell closure for facility
In an email sent to their customers Generate Upcycle who operate the Fremont Regional Digester stated they will cease to accept materials at the Fremont facility as of December 29th.
The action taken is due to a change in the interpretation of regulations by the Water Resource Division of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). The digestate produced at the facility and distributed for years as fertilizer has been recently classified as a pollutant by the agency.
The closure of the Digester would mean the loss of 17 jobs but the larger picture points to a significant economic effect to our region particularly with regard to the Gerber plant, a primary user of the facility and the local farms that have benefitted from the easy access to the fertilizer the Digester produces.
From the email:
“Although this situation is unfortunate, we believe there is still an opportunity for Michigan to lead in this industry. Our primary goal is to partner with state policymakers to adopt a long-term regulatory framework that recognizes anaerobic digestion as a safe, sustainable, and beneficial technology vital to achieving the State of Michigan’s waste, energy, and climate goals. A new regulatory framework is critical to developing common sense, data-driven standards that reflect the process and outputs of recycling food waste, generating organic fertilizer for local farms, and producing clean, renewable energy to support Michigan’s economy.”
Supporters of keeping the Digester open might consider reaching out to our people in Lansing, State Senator Rick Outman and State Rep. Joe Fox. Even though the legislature is closed until January, a truly lengthy Holiday Break, perhaps they might be willing to look into this.
Facility will add 40 jobs to the region
NEWAYGO, MICH (NOVEMBER 13, 2023): Today, Mercury Broadband, a Kansas-based high speed internet and digital phone service provider, Midwest Industrial Development (MID), a full-service design-build industrial and commercial general contractor, the City of Newaygo, and The Newaygo County Economic Development Partnership (NCEDP), powered by The Right Place announced Mercury Broadband’s plans to build a regional service center in Newaygo County.
Mercury Broadband has chosen to expand their footprint in Michigan, after winning rural market contracts in the area. To facilitate this expansion, they have contracted with MID to identify exact locations and manage the construction process.
Once Newaygo County was identified, MID representative Perry Pelton worked with Julie Burrell, Newaygo County’s Economic Development Director, to locate an exact site and obtain additional resources and incentives to support the project.
"Working with Julie at Newaygo County’s EDC has been seamless and professional. We cover the entire Midwest and have yet to run across a more business friendly and supportive city and county,” commented Perry Pelton, MID.
The $2.3M project includes the new construction of a 12,000 sq ft facility, and adding up to 40 jobs to the region. Construction is estimated to be complete in Q1 2024.
“We are very excited to build our Newaygo-based Service Center as we expand our broadband services into rural communities in Michigan,” said CEO of Mercury Broadband, Garrett Wiseman. “There are many areas in the state of Michigan that are in desperate need of better options for High-Speed Internet, and we are delighted to bring reliable broadband into these communities.”
“We were thrilled to aid the MID team in securing a location and incentive package for Mercury Broadband,” shared Julie Burrell, Newaygo County’s Economic Development Director and Regional Partner Lead for The Right Place. “These high-skill positions are a perfect addition to Newaygo County’s economy.”
Michigan Works! West Central supported this project with a $115,679 workforce development package. The City of Newaygo supported this addition to its industrial park through a tax abatement, as approved by City Council on November 13, 2023.
“We are excited to see further development in our city and welcome the additional jobs it will bring. The work of Mercury Broadband will help to provide a needed service for rural Michigan,” said Jon Schneider, Newaygo City Manager.
Front Row: Newaygo Police Chief Georgia Andres, Newaygo Fire Chief David Otteren, Undersheriff Chad Palmiter, Grant Police Chief Brad Wade, WC Police Chief Dan Evans, NC Board of Commissioners Chair Bryan Kolk, Emergency Services Director Abby Watkins; Back Row- Fremont Fire Chief Brian Hettinger, NC Sheriff Bob Mendham, Central Dispatch Director Phil Smalligan and Fremont Police Chief Tim Rodwell
Our Public Safety Departments achieve 100% rating
At their regular meeting on Wednesday October 25th the Newaygo County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution recognizing the County’s Public Safety Departments for achieving 100% compliance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
“The concept of National Incident Management Training (NIMS) was a product of FEMA and provides a structure for all Emergency Response units to follow to provide the most effective approach to major emergencies and situations,” said Board Chair Bryan Kolk.
“We recognized the exceptional extra work that Emergency Response teams have trained on to be able to provide an organized and unified response to Newaygo County emergencies. Our citizens regularly see the police, fire and ambulance services going about their daily duties without realizing the behind the scene preparedness going on anticipating the next major call for service. The Board of Commissioners is happy to recognize these efforts.”
Emergency Services Director Abby Watkins: “NIMS compliancy achievement is important for two key reasons. First, it keeps the agency/department eligible for approximately 98 different federal preparedness assistance in the form of grants, cooperative agreements, and direct contracts.
“Second, NIMS provides the groundwork for enhanced cooperation and interoperability among emergency responders. NIMS incorporates incident management best practices developed and proven by thousands of responders and authorities across America. These practices, coupled with consistency and national standardization, allow us to protect lives, stabilize the emergency, and preserve property more efficiently.
“Newaygo County Emergency Services is charged with promoting, tracking, and reporting NIMS compliancy on an annual basis to the State of Michigan and Federal Emergency Management Agency. While the target benchmark to maintain eligibility is 75%, the nine departments recognized were able to achieve 100% compliance with all personnel completing required training. These departments pride themselves in being committed to providing the needed resources to equip and train their emergency personnel in order to enhance efficiencies within the department and effectively respond to high consequence disasters and emergencies within the community.”
The Departments recognized:
Newaygo County Jail
Station 12 Newaygo Fire Department
Newaygo County Central Dispatch
Newaygo County Sheriff’s Office Road Patrol
Fremont Police Department
Fremont Fire Department
Newaygo Police Department
Grant Police Department
White Cloud Police Department
WHITE CLOUD, MICH (NOV, 3, 2023): Today, The Newaygo County Economic Development Partnership (NCEDP), powered by The Right Place, Inc., announced a new leadership program launching in January 2024.
This program is aimed at advancing the growth and development of future leaders in Newaygo County. Designed to be applicable across a multitude of industries and age groups, the intent of this new program is to encourage local employers to recognize and empower their teams and provide resources to grow future leaders.
NCEDP leadership hopes to equip participants with the knowledge, skills and connections necessary to address the region’s challenges and opportunities, making a positive impact on Newaygo County.
Participants will meet once per month for three hours between January and June 2024, and will learn about self-awareness, developing internal entrepreneurial characteristics, civility, time & stress management, conflict resolution, project management and more. The sessions will be facilitated by various industry professionals, and participants will receive complimentary materials throughout the program.
The inaugural cohort of this program will consist of 12 individuals from diverse backgrounds and geographies within Newaygo County. Individuals who wish to nurture their leadership potential and aspire to make a positive impact can visit bit.ly/leadershipnewaygocounty to apply.
The application deadline is December 1, 2023. For more information, contact Julie Burrell at email@example.com.
About The Newaygo County Economic Development Partnership. The Newaygo County Economic Development Partnership, powered by The Right Place, is an advisory board under the Newaygo County Board of Commissioners and is responsible for oversight and leadership of economic development in Newaygo County.