St-Isidore resident Andrée-Lise Ouellet can no longer deal with the smell coming from a nearby biodigester. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Citizens sign to stop serious St-Isidore stench

Andrée-Lise Ouellet is fed up. She’s fed up of what she says is an “unbearable” smell that lingers in the air of her hometown of St-Isidore.

And she’s not alone.

On Monday evening, Ouellet presented The Nation council with a letter and 148 signatures attesting to the smell.

“The smell has lasted two years,” said Ouellet. “It’s royally unpleasant.”

Ouellet said a string of five significantly smelly days in late October pushed her over the edge to act. She contacted the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), but didn’t get a response.

Afterwards, she decided to draft a letter and garner support by visiting more than a dozen streets around St-Isidore. Of the 153 people she met, 148 signed on.

She said everyone had comments about the stench. One woman said her kids don’t want to play outside anymore, another person was concerned about how the smell would affect their ability to sell their house.

In that time, Ouellet got a call from Melissa Lee, a senior environmental officer with the MOECC. According to Ouellet, Lee said she was aware of the situation in St-Isidore.

“You may be aware, but what’s going to happen?” asked Ouellet rhetorically to council.

Ouellet also met with MPP Grant Crack in early November to deliver the letter

The nose knows

So where does the smell come from? Kirchmeier Farms, a beef, dairy and cash crop operation that also hosts a biodigester. A generator then converts the biogas produced by the biodigester into electricity. According to releases about the project, the setup produces enough electricity to power about 1,500 homes. The resulting mixture is also used as fertilizer. 

Apparently during their phone call, Lee told Ouellet that the ministry was trying to work with Mr. Kirchmeier.

In an uncanny coincidence, an earlier item in council’s meeting was a notice from Kirchmeier Farms sent to adjacent property owners about its request to amend its current Environmental Compliance Approval. 

Currently, manure is mixed with organics. Kirchmeier would maintain the 10,000 cubic meter volume but wants it to be entirely liquid instead of the current liquid-solid mix. The letter adds, “Nothing in the physical anaerobic digestion system has changed or will change.”

Council decided to draft a letter opposing the amendment until smell issues were addressed. Mayor St. Amour also mentioned that the ministry was currently investigating Kirchmeier Farms on the matter, though The Review couldn’t confirm. 

Left in the dark

“We’re not saying (Melissa Lee) isn’t doing her job,” said Ouellet. “But we’re being left in the dark.”

Ouellet’s main issue throughout her presentation to council was wanting more information about what is currently being done to snuff out the smell.

“I’m not here to hurt Mr. Kirchmeier,” said Ouellet, later adding she likes the idea of a biodigester if it’s well-maintained.

Council agreed to put pressure on the MOECC by calling for a summary of what’s been done and what is to come in dealing with the stench, though it added it’ll likely be a few months before it’ll get an answer.

Ouellet urged council to get the information out to residents in St-Isidore, suggesting they have a public meeting and invite Lee to hear firsthand accounts. Council decided to stick to the letter.

“I don’t want to let this go,” said Ouellet. “I don’t want to re-live another summer like this one.”

St. Amour reiterated that council will be sending a letter to the MOECC and adding, “sometimes you have to be patient.”

“We’ve been patient for two years,” replied Ouellet.

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