Group holds rally to encourage Environmental Impact Statement on proposed swine facility

Renee Bergstrom, left, and Linda Tacke, both of Lanesboro, voice their opinions regarding a proposed farrowing facility in Newburg Township. The two attended the rally held by RAKC (Responsible Agriculture in Karst Country) prior to the special Minnesota Pollution Control Agency meeting held in Mabel last Tuesday night. LISSA BLAKE/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

Dr. Calvin Alexander expresses concerns about karst geology and the impact a large hog farrowing facility could have on the area. LISSA BLAKE/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
By : 
Bluff Country Reader

Just say yes to EIS.

The message rang loud and clear Tuesday night, June 19, during a rally in Mabel organized by the group RAKC, Responsible Agriculture in Karst Country. The group’s mission: to ask the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to require an Environmental Impact Study from Catalpa, LLC.

Catalpa, LLC, is proposing the construction of a 4,980-sow farrowing facility in Sections 7 and 18 of Newburg Township, which will generate 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure annually and use 8.8 million gallons of groundwater annually, for a total consumption of 220 million gallons over 25 years.

In response to public outcry, the MPCA recently extended its comment period deadline on the project from May 30 to July 3 at 4:30 p.m. and scheduled a public question-and-answer meeting for last Tuesday evening.

During the rally, scheduled immediately before the meeting, many citizens expressed their concerns about the proposed facility.

“I want our trout streams and drinking water to remain pure,” said Renee Bergstrom of Lanesboro.

Linda Tacke, also of Lanesboro, said she grew up in Iowa, where there are many confinement operations.

“With the karst topography here, it is hard to believe we would even consider this,” she said.

Loni Kemp, an environmental consultant who has been instrumental in spreading the word about the proposed confinement, said she was pleased with the turnout of the rally, which she called a last minute effort to provide an opportunity for citizens to learn what they can do about the proposal.

Mark Spande, who farms near the site of the proposed facility, wanted to make sure people knew the group’s objections were not personal.

“This is in no way a personal attack against anyone involved with Catalpa. These are environmental concerns,” said Spande.

“This is about the scale of this facility and the risks it imposes on all of us … Catalpa knows what their bottom line is,” he continued. “They also know what their costs are. How about you people? Do you know what the costs of them doing this are going to be? How will it impact your property values? How about your streams? Your drinking water? Mabel had to drill two new wells, possibility because of this kind of pollution.

 “If people start moving out of town, businesses will close. What about our roads? Putting that much truck traffic on roads that are not built for that … who’s going to pay for that? You are,” added Spande.

Spande next commented on a stream that runs past his farm. After a rain, the stream is pure mud.

“They say good fences make good neighbors … These fences shouldn’t have to be as high as the wind blows and as deep as the water flows,” he said.

Spande said if required, an EIS would tell the neighbors what their potential losses could be, “to tourism, water, air quality, property values, jobs and roads … not just here in Mabel.”

Canton dairy farmers Bonnie and Vance Haugen farm two miles from the proposed site.

Bonnie said there are several mistakes listed on the environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) as it refers to their farm.

“If there are mistakes in our description, how many mistakes are there in the EAW?” she asked.

“This would be too much concentration of manure in this karst geology,” she added.

Vance added, “I am pro-agriculture … but in the right place at the right time.”

He said the EAW put together by Catalpa, “doesn’t mean spit.”

“But an EIS will make a difference,” he added. “With our karst geology, it’s ridiculous to think about putting this much manure in one place. What other species gets together and craps in one hole?”

Birgitta Meade, a science teacher from North Winneshiek School, said she wanted to address protecting children’s health.

She shared an anecdote of her own mother, in the 1970s, going to her principal and expressing concerns that teachers should not be smoking around students.

“I just want to remind everyone that regulating tobacco took a 50-year battle. We’ve been struggling with confinement ag for 25 years. When I get sad or frustrated, I think about the tobacco struggle taking 50 years. If I have any message today, it’s stay strong. See it as a long haul battle to protect children’s health,” said Meade.

Dr. Calvin Alexander, a geologist who specializes in the mapping of sinkholes, said Fillmore County has “more karst features than the rest of the state combined.”

He said in recent years, Minnesota has lost three municipal sewer lagoons to sinkholes.

He said the people who study karst have learned that in addition to sinkholes forming naturally, they can also be formed by human activities, either impounding water on the surface, building a sewage lagoon or stormwater retention or pumping a large quantity of water out of the ground.

“All three of those are going to go on in one place if this project proceeds,” said Alexander.

Dayna Burtness of Blackhammer Township said sinkholes open up all the time.

She shared a story of a near miss where her grandfather was just a few feet from driving his tractor into a newly formed sinkhole in a cornfield.

“Please sign up to make a comment (during the meeting). Ask for an EIS,” she said.

To learn more about Responsible Agriculture in Karst Country, visit