Amid concerns, MPCA extends public comment period on proposed Fillmore County hog facility

By : 
LISSA BLAKE
News Leader

Slow down.

That’s what a group of Fillmore County residents is encouraging the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to do with regard to reviewing a proposed 4,890-head sow farrowing facility near Newburg.

Last week, the MPCA announced it would extend the public comment period from its original deadline of May 30 to Tuesday, July 3, at 4:30 p.m.

According to Loni Kemp of Canton, who has experience as an environmental consultant, said when she saw the legal notice regarding the comment period in the newspaper, she started to spread the word.

“There was a very formal looking notice in the paper. Hardly anyone read it or knew what it meant,” said Kemp, who lives two miles away from the proposed facility.

Alarmed about the impact such a facility could have on the water and air quality as well as the county roads, Kemp started a calling tree to organize an impromptu meeting. Four hours later, 50 concerned residents attended the meeting at Scheie Lutheran Church in rural Mabel.

“Most people have never experienced livestock on this type of scale. We have cattle and hogs. We accept livestock. But this is at a scale that folks in Fillmore County have never even dreamed of,” said Kemp.

The proposal

According to a press release from the MPCA, Brad Herman of Waukon, Iowa, of Catalpa, LLC, proposes to build a new 4,890-head farrowing facility about 10 miles east of Harmony in Newburg Township. It would include two barns, an animal mortality composting building, a storm water basin and a livestock watering well.

The proposed site would be built on land owned by Alvin Hein.

“The proposed facility would generate an estimated 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure annually that would be stored in reinforced concrete pits below the barns, with a total capacity of nearly 8.9 million gallons,” said the MPCA release.

Catalpa would remove the manure in the fall and inject it into cropland as fertilizer following an MPCA-approved manure management plan requiring at least 732 acres of cropland.

The release goes on to say, “More than 1,781 acres of cropland are available for land application among 24 manure application sites in the county.”

When asked about the 1,781 acres, MPCA’s Charles Peterson said that would be land that Catalpa would either own, rent or for which there would be some type of spreading agreement.

Our water, our air

Mark Spande, who farms just over a mile from the proposed property, said his objection to the hog facility is not personal.

“This is not a personal thing against Al Hein or Brad Herman. This is our water and our air that we’re concerned about,” he said.

Spande said he found out about the project from neighboring farmers who had been visiting with Hein about the facility.

“My understanding from Al is that these types of facilities don’t smell as bad as a finishing facility does . . . But with the type of rains we’ve been getting and the area’s karst structure, it’s truly just a matter of time before our water is affected,” said Spande. “Al has what they call a stream sieve really close to his property. That’s just a direct funnel right into our groundwater.”

Spande added even if the MPCA monitors the facility after it is built and fines the operator for any infractions, it will be too late.

“It will be we, ourselves, who are left with having to buy bottled water because of neglect from someone else,” he said.

300 and mounting

According to Peterson, the MPCA had received over 300 comment letters as of Monday, June 11.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in this particular project. We felt it was important to be responsive to those concerns,” he said.

Public meeting

The MPCA will hold an informational meeting on the proposal starting with an open house at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, at the Mabel Community Center in Mabel.

Presentations explaining the proposal, environmental review and feedlot permit will begin at 6:30 p.m, followed by a time for questions from the public.

The project’s environmental assessment worksheet is available on the MPCA’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us (search “environmental review”).

It also is available by calling Charles Peterson at 651-757-2856.

Written comments on the project’s environmental assessment worksheet may be sent by email to charles.peterson@state.mn.us or mailed to him at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 520 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN 55155-4194.

In addition, the proposed feedlot requires federal, state and county permits. The MPCA will issue coverage under the National Pollution Disposal Elimination System permit and has extended the public notice for its permit coverage to July 3 at 4:30 p.m. The public notice is available by going to the MPCA website at www.pca.state.mn.us and clicking on “public notices” in the right margin and scrolling down to June 6.

Written comments on the permit can be emailed to Mark Gernes of the MPCA, at mark.p.gernes@state.mn.us, or mailed to him at MPCA, 18 Wood Lake Dr. SE, Rochester, MN 55904. For more information about the permit coverage, call Gernes at 507-206-2643.

All comments should be submitted no later than Tuesday, July 3, at 4:30 p.m.