Zoning Appeals Board approves 3 Rivers Energy land use exception paving the way for anaerobic digester

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — It’s a process that required a town hall, a public hearing, and eight rounds of roll call voting at three separate Metro Council meetings but on Tuesday, the Metro Board of Zoning Appeals approved a special land use exception application paving the way for an anaerobic digester to be built in Lynchburg. The AD would take raw stillage from the distillery and convert it to both natural gas and fertilizer.

3 Rivers Energy provided this photo of anaerobic digester tanks similar to those proposed in Lynchburg. (Photo Provided)

It’s a move the Metro Planning Commission originally recommended to the Metro Council during their June meeting. In the July meeting, the Council approved the second but not the third required vote on the land use exception. On Monday, the Council approved the third of three required readings of a resolution adding a land use exception to the Metro Zoning Ordinances allowing a “distillery by-products processing facility” on land zoned A1 (agricultural). 

The exception is similar to one recently granted to Silicon Ranch for a solar farm project in Moore County. During the July meeting, Mayor Lewis explained that the Metro Planning Commission, following the lead of the Metro Council after the solar farm zoning, chose the agricultural exception as opposed to an industrial rezoning to ensure that if the AD Plant were to ever be decommissioned, an industrial project could not take its place.

Special Exception Application

The application, submitted on behalf of the Motlow family, included detailed information about ingress and egress into the property, fire risk, traffic safety, water pollution and air pollution risks, loading and unloading at the site, as well as any potential noise, glare, or odor.

The site plan included improvements to the property including a 50 foot increase to the approach to the site to allow additional space for trucks and emergency vehicles to turn in and out of the facility from Goodbranch Road.

The application states that there will be a very low fire risk at the facility because the majority of the equipment exists outdoors where natural gas can not accumulate. “There will be approximately 2000 mcf of gas storage on site that is located in a 4.5 foot diameter pipe buried underground. The technology to store gas in this manner is proven and burying the facility reduces the chance of damage during storm events,” the application states.

It also explains that the natural gas storage tanks are 90 percent water and only around 10 percent methane with no oxygen present that could “allow it to burn.” Any methane leaks would vent to the atmosphere and be immediately noticeable due to odor. During the town hall, 3 Rivers Energy’s David Johnson stated that the company was incentivized to catch leaks immediately because “if we’re losing gas, we’re losing money.”

The application also addressed traffic safety concerns stating that the operating staff of two and one weekly supply truck would be the only anticipated increase in traffic. 3 River Energy’s preferred plan of fertilizer distribution involved piping it from the facility, which would not involve trucks. Should trucking become necessary, they stated in the meeting that a distribution site could be established near Slop Hill where traffic patterns would be similar to existing slop haulers.

The site plan includes spaces for a minimum of 10 vehicles to park and maintain roadways for loading and unloading.

The application also addressed both potential water and air pollution from the AD. It describes the water pollution risk as “low” stating that the “the primary risk of environmental pollution would be the release of nutrients into the ground water from leaking ponds.  The ponds will be lined with a 60-mil poly liner and include leak detection under the liner to ensure the integrity of the liner.”

The application explains that natural gas is actually considered an improvement to air quality because it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “In addition, a flare is used to burn any methane that cannot be injected into the pipeline. The facility will be required to obtain a State Air Construction permit to construct the facility followed by a State Air Operating Permit for continued monitoring to ensure that the facility is operated in compliance with air protection regulations,” the application states.

3 Rivers Energy officials developed the site plan with the Metro Moore Ordinance for A-1 (agriculture) in mind including matching setbacks and view sheds. They said they plan to point all security lighting downward to avoid glare. The site will also be monitored remotely at night without necessary lighting for workers. “Bright lighting for workers will be on only in the event of required maintenance response when staff are on site actively working,” the application states.

According to the application, noise at the AD would be around 85 decibels at three feet from a piece of equipment.  This is similar to the noise that is created by a common household blender. They also stated that they do not anticipate any unpleasant odor because, “all the processing is done in a completely enclosed environment, ensuring odors do not escape into the community and animals such as rodents and birds are not attracted to the facility.”

Push back from one board member

The majority of the push back at the meeting came from first term BZA Board member Patrick Maynard. Maynard also served one term on the Metro Council. He stated that he did not have “enough time or information” to feel comfortable voting on the issue.

All BZA meetings happen as necessary as opposed to on a regular basis. According to Mayor Lewis, packets for Tuesday’s meeting were available in her office a week before the meeting in anticipation of a successful third reading at Monday night’s Metro Council meeting. Officials scheduled the meeting in early August, and a public notice of the meeting date and time appeared in the August 11 issue of The Moore County News.

In addition to the three Metro Council meetings, public hearing, and public town hall hosted by both the Jack Daniel Distillery and 3 Rivers Energy to address any public questions or comments, The Times also published five articles regarding the anaerobic digester issue including Metro Council to vote on anaerobic digester land use on Monday on July 17, Metro Council approves second but not third reading of anaerobic digester land use exception on July 19, 5 takeaways from the Jack Daniel, 3 Rivers Energy Town Hall on August 4, and Metro Council approves TRANs, distillery rezoning, and land use exception on August 16.

During the BZA Meeting, 3 Rivers Energy’s David Johnson offered to walk Maynard through the application.

Alternate fertilizer distribution site

Another concern addressed at the BZA meeting centered around installing fertilizer pipes above ground along county roads. Roads Superintendent Shannon Cauble stated that temporary above ground pipelines are not currently allowed in Moore County. Cauble also stated concerns about additional tanker loads on Goodbranch Road should 3 Rivers Energy not be able to secure easement agreements with local landowners.

Both 3 Rivers Energy’s Johnson and Jack Daniel’s Melvin Keebler stated that their preference would be to use a temporary, above ground pipeline until interested farmers could be identified and then run permanent underground pipes once those relationships could be established. They stated that if local officials decided that “lay flat” pipe wasn’t an option that an alternate fertilizer distribution site would be established on the Jack Daniel’s campus near Slop Hill.

In the end, the BZA Board approved the land use exception with Chair Keith Moses, Houston Lindsey, Patrick Maynard, and Josh Cook all voting in favor. Member Tom Laster could not attend. The mayor’s office appoints all BZA Board members and board appointments are subject to approval by the Metro Council. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}