Walz Energy is waiting on weather to begin work again

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After a year of little noticeable activity, chief operating officer Jon Haman said Walz Energy, LLC, is waiting on the weather to begin work again on the 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation outside Monona.

Work at the site first began nearly two years ago, with plans to construct six open front cattle barns, to go with an additional barn already in existence, as well as a feed storage area, concrete transfer pits and a liquid manure storage lagoon with a capacity of nearly 39 million gallons. Also included on the site will be tanks for anaerobic digestion and methane production. 

Haman said the upcoming work will include putting a liner in the lagoon and installing the methane digesters.

However, that work can’t begin until water is pumped from the concrete basins near the livestock buildings and from the lagoon at the lower end of the site. According to Haman, the pumps and filters for this step will be similar to those used to de-water New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

The goal, said Haman, is to have cattle in the Walz Energy buildings by the end of 2019. Their numbers will increase slowly, as the digesters become operational.

The manure from the cattle at the site will be captured, and with the help of the digesters, combined with feed waste products to produce natural gas. Haman said the scrubbed methane will be fed into an existing Black Hills Energy pipeline at the southwest corner of the Walz Energy site. 

The residue from the digesters, which is called digestate, will go into the anaerobic lagoon, then later injected into the soil per a nutrient management plan (NMP). The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rejected Walz’s first NMP, citing incorrect numbers of nutrient loads and acreage. Once Walz submits a revised NMP, the DNR requires that a public notice be published, giving people 10 days to review the NMP and request a public hearing.

Current and future threats to Bloody Run Creek, an Outstanding Iowa Water, as well as contamination of the groundwater in the area’s porous karst topography, have worried many local residents since the Walz Energy project began.

The DNR has monitored the site from the start and, in March 2018, issued a consent order to Walz for three separate violations that occurred during construction, including illegal discharges to Bloody Run. In May, continued violations prompted the DNR to seek judicial enforcement. Officials said the main problem was that few—or inadequate—stabilization or erosion control measures have been taken at the site, an assessment Walz disputed. However, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, at its July meeting, declined to refer Walz Energy to the state attorney general’s office.

In August, Walz Energy entered into an administrative consent order with the DNR, paying a $10,000 penalty and agreeing to address violations. Their efforts to stabilize the site and deal with stormwater didn’t please the DNR, though, who slapped Walz with additional notices of violation on Aug. 21, Oct. 5, Oct. 23 and Dec. 12.

Joe Sanfilippo, supervisor of the DNR’s environmental field office in Manchester, said his office has not done anything more at the site since December, but he has met with Haman and another Walz Energy representative, Heath Kellogg, to discuss the project. He is impressed with the contractor, Miron Construction, which has multiple offices in Wisconsin and Iowa. 

“I think they will be capable of properly bringing the project forward,” Sanfilippo noted.

As for the DNR’s role, he added, “we will continue to monitor that [the project] is done according to specs.”

According to Sanfilippo, no further enforcement action is currently being taken against Walz.

Audrey Posten and Larry Stone contributed to this article.

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