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This aerial photo shows the Birds Eye vegetable processing facility in the town of Darien. 

ELKHORN

The smell coming from lagoons at Birds Eye’s town of Darien vegetable processing plant has prompted complaints for years, but it is improving, a company representative says.

Kip Guyon, senior director of operations at Birds Eye, told the Walworth County Zoning Agency on Thursday that the lagoons’ water quality has improved dramatically since July 2018, and complaints from neighbors have decreased.

Michael Cotter, director of the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department, said one complaint from a town resident was recorded in September, October and April, and two were recorded in June.

The agency last discussed the odor issue in September. Members Thursday decided to revisit those discussions in June 2020, when they have three choices: proceed with revoking Birds Eye’s conditional-use permit, end discussions entirely or continue monitoring the smell.

Much of the conversation has centered on aerators in two lagoons that contain factory wastewater. The water is used to irrigate nearby fields, and Birds Eye representatives have said the smell is more pungent during irrigation.

Guyon told the committee the odor is caused by a breakdown of organic compounds.

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The company installed aerators in the west lagoon in 2016 and added an air flotation system in 2017.

In 2018, the company installed aerators in the north lagoon and implemented a water-use reduction system this year, Guyon said.

He told the committee the company received more than 40 complaints about the smell in June 2018. It received fewer than five this month, according to his slide presentation.

Guyon said the liner in the west lagoon recently started leaking and the aerators were temporarily removed. The company hired a diver to swim to the bottom of the lagoon and temporarily fix the liner while the aerators were outside the water, he said.

Most of the aerators were reinstalled June 18. Additional work to permanently fix the liner will occur this fall, Guyon said.

He said Birds Eye is looking for ways to improve its wastewater handling system, including:

  • Improved pretreatment of the wastewater stream.
  • Additional treatment options and increased storage and aeration.
  • More land for land application.
  • A connection to WalCoMet, a county wastewater treatment provider, for a portion of the wastewater stream.

Jim VanDreser, a citizen committee member, said he lives in the town of Walworth and works in the village of Darien. He praised Birds Eye for its efforts.

“I think the efforts they have made have been very successful … maybe a faint odor,” VanDreser said. “I think you’ve done a great job so far.”

Thursday’s discussion comes as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources considers renewing the company’s five-year permit to irrigate fields with wastewater.

Complaints about the smell are not part of the permitting process, a DNR representative told The Gazette earlier this month.

Birds Eye has “implemented proactive measures to mitigate odors” in the lagoons, according to the DNR’s wastewater permit fact sheet. The company has installed 23 surface aerators and provided supplemental oxygen for bacteria to consume, which has allayed the smell, the DNR noted.

As part of the permit renewal process, residents can submit public comments to the state through Friday.

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