Rally against west Louisville methane plant at mayor’s office

Protesters will rally against the proposed anaerobic digester. | Created by Ryan Herring

Protesters will rally against the proposed anaerobic digester. | Created by Ryan Herring

Cheketa Tinsley believes industrial projects built in west Louisville can cause more harm than simply emitting foul odors.

Tinsley said she recently lost a 31-year-old friend from west Louisville to spinal and breast cancer. That friend left behind five children.

“They told her that she contracted it from environmental influences,” said Tinsley, a Shively resident who grew up in the city’s Parkland neighborhood near the northern edge of Rubbertown.

The talk of constructing an anaerobic digester — an alternative energy project that would turn food waste and bourbon stillage into methane gas — at 17th and Maple streets now has Tinsley concerned. That is less than a mile away from the homes where her mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law live.

Joyce Tinsley, Cheketa Tinsley’s mother-in-law, said she first heard about the digester a couple months ago on the news and wonders why companies continually build industrial operations in residential areas of west Louisville.

“It seems as though when the houses are torn down that is what goes up,” she said.

Joyce Tinsley would like to see the plant built in a more rural area and is concerned about potential health and safety hazards. But “I don’t know how much say we have on that,” she said.

Numerous opponents of the digester say they are not opposed to the technology, but they don’t want it in a residential neighborhood. The project is part of a partnership between Indiana company STAR BioEnergy and Heaven Hill Distilleries.

Activist and former Louisville Metro Council member Attica Scott said she’s heard an unprecedented response about this matter.

“People are really upset,” Scott said.

She, along with others, have organized a rally at 5 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 3, in front of Mayor Greg Fischer’s office at 527 W. Jefferson St. Those gathered will ask the mayor to halt the project.

“He is the person who is endorsing this environmental injustice,” Scott said.

The mayor officially came out in support of the digester at a Nov. 5 press conference to announce STAR BioEnergy and Heaven Hill Distilleries’ commitment to donate $3.5 million to a newly created West Louisville Community Benefits Fund and the former Schenley Distillery building, valued at $1.5 million, to Simmons College and Kentucky State University.

There was even some controversy surrounding the terms of that gift, but the matter has since been settled.

At the press conference announcing the donation, some leaders who’d been against the digester project switched their position. Several said they’d rather have the plant get built and have $5 million to show for it than have it be built and get nothing in return.

However, some leaders remain opposed.

“What often happens with corporate bullies and a government entity… money starts to get thrown around,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, people are running to the money.”

“Money cannot buy integrity,” she added.

The digester project will go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7. The meeting will be held at the old jail, 514 W. Liberty St.

To move forward, STAR BioEnergy needs a conditional use permit as well as variances and waivers. If the zoning board approves them, the company can start construction.