Minnesota Pollution Control Agency addresses concerns Citizens call for environmental impact statement

The Mabel Area Community Center was filled beyond capacity on Tuesday night as over 400 individuals attended a special meeting hosted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regarding a proposed farrowing facility in Newburg Township. LISSA BLAKE/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
By : 
Bluff Country Reader

Follow the rules.

That was the gist of more than 30 comments received during a special meeting Tuesday evening, June 19, hosted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

MPCA representatives presented information regarding a proposed 4,980-sow farrowing facility proposed by Catalpa, LLC, of Waukon, Iowa, in Sections 7 and 18 of Newburg Township.

In response to citizen concerns, the MPCA recently scheduled the meeting and announced it would extend the public comment period from its original deadline of May 30 to Tuesday, July 3, at 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday’s standing-room-only crowd, estimated at around 400 people, included concerned citizens who are insisting the MPCA demand an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from Catalpa to address the long-term impacts of the proposed facility.

Cathy Rofshus, public information officer with MPCA, said the Mabel crowd had broken the organization’s record for attendance at a public meeting.

“We can only speak for our agency,” said Rofshus, adding anyone with concerns is welcome to contact their organization by phone or email to request a conversation or in-person meeting.

“Your comments are very important. This is not a rubber stamp process,” said Rofshus, who also reminded those intending to speak at the meeting that their comments would also need to be mailed or emailed in order to become part of the record.

The project

Chuck Peterson of MPCA’s environmental review unit is the person who reviewed the environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) submitted by Catalpa.

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 stormwater 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. More than 1,781 acres of cropland are available for land application among 24 manure application sites in the county.

Peterson said since he joined the agency, he has done 25 EAWs.

“My previous record was 31 comments. This one has exceeded 300 comments,” he said.

 Peterson said every comment would receive a response. The next step would be the preparation of findings of fact, where MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine will decide whether or not the potential impact of the proposed site necessitates an EIS.

Permit process

Mark Gernes, MPCA environmental specialist, explained the permitting process.

After the applicant applies for the permit, the staff reviews the application based on requirements found in the state feedlot rules.

He said the application includes a manure management plan as well as information about emergency responses, mortality management, etc.

He said at the end of the comment period, the MPCA may ask for clarification, either from the commenters or the applicant.

If the application meets rule and permit requirements, the MPCA would issue coverage under the general National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES).

There would be ongoing MPCA oversight of the facility through construction inspections, routine compliance inspections and enforcement of permit conditions.


More than 30 people addressed the crowd Tuesday night, including Asher Hockersmith, a 15-year-old from Winneshiek County, Iowa.

“I have lived in this general area for the first 15 years of my life, in general security. It’s a beautiful place where I would like to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Now that is being threatened, I feel frightened that I might lose that privilege,” said Hockersmith.

Lois Suckow expressed her concerns that the Jordan Aquifer comes into Fillmore County.

“It’s an underground river . . . veins of water that run way underground . . . If your well is in that aquifer . . . this facility will be using an atrocious amount of water. Your water is going to be affected,” she said.

Ginger Storlie Kent said she isn’t going to trust anything about the process.

“Who filled out this application? What sinkholes did they not get listed? Who is going to double check all this stuff? When they apply their manure, who is going to be checking it? If it’s the farmer in charge, I’m not going to trust that farmer,” she said.

Steve McCargar, an environmental activist from Winneshiek County, said, “The scale of what we do in this world matters.”

He said when a livestock operation of this scale does environmental harm, it’s the neighbors “downstream and downwind” who have to pay for it.

He said if there has to be “substantial harm” proven before the MPCA will demand an EIS, the evidence is there.

“People experience an increase in lung diseases and asthma. These facilities are not regulated for their air pollution. What happens when it cracks? Groundwater is put at risk as wells are poisoned,” said McCargar.

“The big question is does corporate America have the right to pollute the people who live in rural America? No. And the MPCA needs to take that into account and demand an EIS. This is about our future. We shouldn’t be the dumping ground for Chinese pork,” he added.

Janine Holter expressed concerns about a ravine on her property next to the area where the facility plans to spread its manure.

“The document shows nothing about this ravine,” she said. 

North Winneshiek science teacher Birgitta Meade said she has 450 scientific studies linking proximity of animal confinements to compromised children’s health.

When Meade asked the MPCA representatives if they would accept those studies as part of her written comments, they said they would.

Eva Barr, an organic farmer from Wykoff, expressed her concerns about what concentrated applications of manure with antibiotic residues would do to the soil.

“What is the impact for humans, other creatures and the wilderness?” she asked.

Kevin Vatland, whose land abuts Al Hein’s, said Al has been a good neighbor. However, he added, “I’m concerned about my water. What if something would happen to my well? I have sinkholes. Is that a big threat? I don’t know.”

Dawn Jenson Johnson added, “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to get an EIS.”

Loni Kemp next addressed her concern about transparency regarding ownership of the project.

“Who is Catalpa? Who would own it? Who would operate it? Who would really be accountable and responsible? What is the track record of Catalpa? We have no idea,” said Kemp.

In response to Kemp’s questions, Daniel Dykstra, assistant manager at Waukon Feed Ranch, said the majority shareholder in Catalpa would be Al Hein and the minority shareholders will be a combination of other individuals, including some of the Feed Ranch’s employees.

“Waukon Feed Ranch is being hired by Catalpa to general contract the build and to manage the facility,” said Dykstra.

He said the sows come from Holden Farms and the Waukon Feed Ranch writes a contract to feed their pigs and make management decisions.

He said Catalpa, LLC, is in the process of being registered with the state of Minnesota and will be hiring 15 full-time employees with a payroll of $800,000 per year.

He said, despite any rumors, Catalpa will not be building any finishing barns in the area, due to biosecurity concerns.

“We want to keep the herd safe,” he said.

Pigs produced in the area will be shipped to finishing facilities at approximately 22 days of age.

When Meade responded that complaints about ag operations never make it to the people who need to hear them, Rofshus said the MPCA has a place on its website to submit anonymous complaints.

“We have a 24/7 state duty officer … You can also contact any of our staff directly at 800-422-0798,” said Rofshus.

When Dayna Burtness of Blackhammer Township expressed concerns that the manure from the piglets was not part of the calculation of the manure volume, and asked about the vehicle impact related to manure management, Jeff Bauman of Anez Consulting said the primary transportation of manure would be done through hoses and pumps.

 Mark Bishop, who owns Niagara Cave near Harmony, said, “As the owner of the most well-known sinkhole in Fillmore County, my concerns are multiple. Even the knifed in manure doesn’t stay where you put it . . . within hours, we get to smell manure in the cave a couple hundred feet below the surface.”

In it together

Harvey Benson of Harmony reminded those in attendance that any problem of yours is a problem of your neighbor’s. “We’re all in this together,” he said.

Robert Johnson of Harmony added, “This is a risk that isn’t acceptable.”

How to comment

The Catalpa project’s environmental assessment worksheet is available on the MPCA’s website at 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.

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.