The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is considering renewing Birds Eye’s 5-year permit to irrigate fields with wastewater from its food processing plant, but complaints about a smell from the water are not part of the permitting process.
A rancid odor from two lagoons at the plant at W8880 County X in the town of Darien has been a lingering issue for years. Two dozen complaints about the smell were filed by residents in the village of Darien last summer, and at least 15 were filed by town of Darien residents.
The lagoons house discharge from the plant, and the wastewater is treated and used as irrigation. The DNR’s permit regulates the loading rate and application of the irrigation to ensure the discharge doesn’t affect groundwater, said Bryan Hartsook, a DNR wastewater field supervisor.
Daniel Majorowicz, a Birds Eye representative, told the Walworth County Zoning Agency last year the smell is more pronounced in summer and during irrigation. He said the company was testing the lagoons’ pH levels daily, and that the levels were improving.
On June 20, Walworth County’s zoning agency is expected to again discuss the lagoons and Birds Eye’s plans to mitigate the smell. Walworth County officials could threaten to pull the company’s conditional-use permit, officials say, but doing so would be a dramatic and unlikely move.
“That’s not something that’s been discussed,” said Shannon Haydin, deputy director of the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department. “... Revoking a conditional-use permit is a pretty dramatic action to take. It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s not taken lightly.”
Michael Cotter, director of the land use and resource management department, said Friday the county fielded a couple of complaints about the smell in August and September and one in April.
Odor control is outside the scope of the state’s wastewater permit, Hartsook said, but he acknowledged the stench is the “primary concern” among residents. He said the DNR has fielded complaints about the odor for the past two years.
Hartsook said DNR officials met with village of Darien officials Monday, and that village officials indicated the smell has diminished in the past year.
Birds Eye “has implemented proactive measures to mitigate odors,” according to the state’s wastewater permit fact sheet. The company has installed 23 surface aerators in the lagoons and has provided supplemental oxygen for bacteria to consume, which has allayed the smell.
As part of the permit renewal process, residents can submit public comments to the state through June 21.
Hartsook said the DNR will schedule a public hearing if at least five residents request one.