O'Brien County OKs waiver for Roorda

Nic Rowe, an engineer with Jackson, MN-based ProAg Engineering, and Lance Roorda of Roorda Dairy near Paullina, spoke to the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Feb. 2, about a planned manure digester project at the dairy. They requested the board grant a waiver so the digester could be built within a 100-foot setback of Oak Hill Avenue’s right of way, which the board approved.

PRIMGHAR—The O’Brien County Board of Supervisors gave its blessing Tuesday, Feb. 2, for Roorda Dairy west of Paullina to build a manure digester structure within the setback of Oak Hill Avenue’s right of way.

The board listened to a proposal for the construction project from Nic Rowe, an engineer with Jackson, MN-based ProAg Engineering, who is helping dairy owner Lance Roorda with it.

Rowe and Roorda are collaborating on the project with Brightmark, a San Francisco-based global waste solutions company that specializes in renewable natural gas and plastics.

Rowe described what the circular structure would look like and how it would convert manure into renewable, natural gas.

“It’s about a 110-foot diameter, concrete sidewalls and then a cover on top,” Rowe said. “All the manure of the barn goes into this tank and is heated in this tank. It spends a couple of weeks in this tank. After that time period, it goes back to the dairy, to the earthen storage basins, where it’s pretty much an odorless product after that.”

In their presentation to the supervisors, Rowe and Roorda listed the benefits the digester would provide:

  • Lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the county.
  • Harnessing an otherwise wasted resource.
  • Reducing the potency of odors, need for water, proliferation of pathogens and nutrient runoff.

Rowe also said the digester would be one part of a larger natural gas pipeline project in the county with which he is involved. The neighboring project is at Van Ess Dairy near Sanborn, which also is planning a digester.

“Ideally, the project will pipe the gas between these dairies to an injection port in the county, a natural gas line,” Rowe said.

The issue with the digester project at Roorda Dairy is its planned location: It would be west of the dairy’s free stall barn to the east of Oak Hill Avenue, which Rowe said would allow it to easily tie into the existing manure system.

“Unfortunately, that puts us about 30 feet into the 100-foot setback to the road right of way,” Rowe said. “That’s why I’m looking to hopefully get a waiver to build that within that 100-foot setback.”

The only other potential location for the digester would be an open area to the south of the proposed site. However, the dairy wants to reserve that space for possible expansion in the future.

Supervisor Dennis Vanden Hull asked if the digester could be moved slightly closer to the free stall barn so there would be about a 20-foot gap between the structures.

Rowe wants to avoid doing that because there is an elevation difference in that convening space and to prevent exhaust from the barn from damaging the digester tank. Another issue with moving the digester closer to the barn is it would create a tighter space for construction work.

“Forty feet was what we’re hoping to have for the distance between it,” Rowe said.

Forrest Carroll of Brightmark, who is the development manager for the digester project, joined the meeting virtually. He noted the project would bring temporary and permanent jobs to the county.

Supervisor Dan Friedrichsen voiced his support for the project and asked when construction would start on the digester at Roorda Dairy and if there would be employees who would manage the site once it is operational.

Carroll said he is hopeful construction would start either in the summer or fall. Brightmark would maintain the digester once it is finished.

Vanden Hull said he likes the fact the digester would be far enough away from the intersection of Oak Hill Avenue and Highway 10 to allow passing cars to slow down.

Supervisor Sherri Bootsma said she did not want the board to set a precedent of always granting waivers for such projects but thought Roorda Dairy was an instance where one should be granted.

Roorda said people at the dairy would keep eyes on the project all day long to look out for any potential issues that would arise in the future.

“We will advise on it all the time to where if anything is out of the normal, we’ll be the quickest ones on the phone to make sure that it’s getting handled,” he said.