Clear Horizons (copy)

The spill-prone Clear Horizons manure processing plant in Waunakee is seeking a new permit for air and water emissions from the state Department of Natural Resources. An explosion and fire in August destroyed the roof of one of the facility's three 1.25-million-gallon digesters.

BAILEY BERG — State Journal

An executive at a troubled manure processing plant near Waunakee says state officials are evaluating new processes the facility has put in place before deciding on possible fines for alleged water pollution violations.

Clean Horizons chief operating officer Norman Doll said company representatives met with state Department of Natural Resources and Department of Justice officials Tuesday to discuss three manure spills and other problems.

The plant was built in 2010 to collect gas from dairy manure from nearby farms. The gas is burned to generate electricity, and the manure was to be returned to farms with a 60 percent reduction in phosphorus. The goal is to spread it on fields as fertilizer with less risk that the runoff would foul lakes with smelly growths of weeds, algae and pathogens that can force beach closings.

The company applied for a new water permit on Jan. 1. Until this year, Clear Horizons has frequently missed the phosphorus goals.

Doll said he hopes the DNR will grant a new water permit with 60 percent as the required monthly average instead of a weekly standard in the current permit.

It can take up to a week to obtain results of tests measuring nutrient levels, and Doll said it’s not possible to adjust processes quickly enough to consistently hit weekly averages.

Spokeswomen for DNR and DOJ said they couldn’t comment.

The plant also is seeking a new air permit. The public comment period on that ends June 15. Clear Horizons’ application asks for a permit that would allow five times as much hydrogen sulfide as the current permit.

Current limits are unrealistically low, officials have said. Burning hydrogen sulfide releases sulfur dioxide that can impact human health and induce acid rain.

Emissions aren’t expected to reach the proposed limit, and federal air quality standards won’t be violated, DNR officials have said.

The DNR has alleged 90 air violations, many related to the 300 parts per million hydrogen sulfide limit. But Doll said the limit wasn’t exceeded to the extent company reports made it appear. Tests showed the gas was within the limit in seven of 50 tests in 2013. In 26 tests, limits were exceeded by specific amounts from 326 ppm to 1,704 ppm.

In 12 other tests, the gas was listed as over the measurable range without a specific concentration. In five tests, readings indicated the monitoring equipment needed to be recalibrated, and workers mistakenly reported violations in those cases, Doll said.

Have an idea for Catching Up? Send it to


Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.