The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) held another meeting to allow the public to express their concerns and to pose questions at the Mabel Community Center on December 4. Similar to the June 19 informational MPCA meeting, concerned citizens packed the community center once again.
During the first public comment period, 771 written comments were received by the MPCA. The MPCA then ordered two additional studies of the proposed site. The Catalpa Ag, LLC proposal is for a nearly 5,000 sow farrowing facility, two barns, animal mortality composting building, one storm water basin, and a livestock watering well. Manure storage pits under the barns will have the capacity to store over 7 million gallons of manure. The liquid manure is to be applied over more than 700 acres. The facility is to be located in Sections 7 and 18 of Newburg Township.
The Newburg Township Board placed an interim moratorium on new feedlots over 500 animal units in August. The moratorium will be effective for a year.
Water and air quality concerns were stressed during the 3 hour meeting. By my count, over 40 people came forward to urge commissioner John Linc Stine to order a more extensive and in-depth study, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Some asked for an outright denial of the permit.
The two studies, Electrical Resistivity Imaging (ERI) and the investigation of a possible sinkhole (depression) located within 300 feet of the proposed location of the confinement building, were completed during the summer.
George Schwint, MPCA feedlot engineer, presented results of the two studies. He explained this is an area of the county that is karst susceptible. The Shakopee formation covers a large area of southeast Minnesota. However, 2,000 feedlots are located on the Shakopee formation and about 500 of those have liquid manure storage. The largest risk is a storage structure that is poorly built or unlined. In this case a water tight concrete liner will be over a cohesive soil liner.
The proposed building site has a low to moderate probability of sinkhole formation. The slight depression by the barn site was investigated (July 26). Schwint maintained all agreed it was not a sinkhole.
The ERI was performed August 22 and 23 under the proposed barn sites. It was later noted that the consultant which did the ERI was hired by the proposer of the project. The ERI provides a subsurface picture showing rock, weathered rock/soil. It should reveal filled sinkholes or features likely to develop into sinkholes.
Schwint noted the storm water pond site was over highly weathered rock. ERI data should show where to locate structures in an area that presents the lowest risk possible.
Schwint said there was no evidence of active sinkhole development and no active karst hazard that should prohibit construction. He added they will look at an alternative location for the storm water pond.
These results and conclusions have been criticized by three men who study karst features. Dr. Calvin Alexander, a retired University of Minnesota earth science professor and geophysicist, was critical of both the methods and the conclusions. Alexander believes the construction of a storm water infiltration pond adjacent to the barns with excavated pits beneath them or near a high capacity water supply well will be a triple threat for catastrophic sinkhole collapse. He said other possible sinkholes, stream sinks, and other features need to be checked. He believes without further study a decision will be made in “absence of good data.”
Todd Peterson, a DNR geophysicist had reported, “The resistivity imaging data are not sufficient to prove…their conclusions that there is not an active karst hazard at this time.”
Martin Larson, farmer and president of Minnesota Caving Club, insists, “Infiltrating large quantities of water in this geologic setting will increase probability of sinkhole formation.” He described what he termed as the shortfalls of the ERI study. Essentially, the ERI study is a valuable tool, but the study completed did not sufficiently crisscross the area to gather reliable data.
Al Hein defended the project, saying it has been a long and complicated process with no short cuts. “Water quality is just as important to our family as yours.” He suggested current farming practices, using commercial fertilizers, is not sustainable. Manure provides nutrients for crops, binds with the soil, and provides organic material. He cited the recent Climate Change report, insisting there is a safe, healthy relationship with animal agriculture.
MPCA commissioner Stine, a soil scientist and hydrologist, explained the permitting process and the environmental review process which run concurrently. “Speaking to the people attending, you spoke up in June and we gathered more information. Do we know enough?” Should we require an EIS or not? For the permit, does it meet our standards for feedlots or does it harm water quality? Stine admitted water quality sensitivity is high in Fillmore County.
Stine stated, “I will make both decisions on the environmental review and the permit by December 31.”
Stine referred to a well testing program in Fillmore County and across the state. In area counties the nitrate concentrations are high. The study determined that 16.9% of wells in Fillmore County that were tested have nitrate levels that are over health standard levels. Stine added, “Before I make a final decision I am here to listen to you tonight.”
Each person that signed up to make a statement was allowed up to three minutes. Most were not against animal agriculture but were against a project of this size. Concerns were expressed about the affect on drinking water, odor, property values, tourism, quality of life, fly fishing, and more. Almost to a person, the request for a more in-depth study in the form of an EIS was made.
Pam Seebach, pastor, said, “This is God’s earth, we are responsible for protecting it.” Vance Haugen said there will be no do overs, once this fragile area is contaminated.
The topic of climate change came up due to the number of 100-year floods that have occurred just during the last decade. Stine agreed that 100-year floods are coming at a greater frequency because the climate is changing. “You have to think about the future when we make decisions today.” Stine said they will be looking at all the data and comments.
Mark Gernes, permit writer, was asked if he had overlayed the lidar map with the manure management plan. This was suggested to be a consideration as there is a potential for ground water contamination from manure application on the acres in the plan.
Loni Kemp maintained the two studies were inept and followed poor protocol. They fail on design and conclusions.
“Julie” asked what reason is there not to do an EIS. Stine said the criteria to order an EIS is the potential for significant environmental impact. In either case the decision must be supported by findings of fact. If a decision is made to order an EIS, the permit decision will be delayed.
There was a question about liquid manure being applied over frozen ground. Gernes said winter application of liquid manure is restricted after December 1. For an emergency application, there are notification requirements. Stine said if applications are made on frozen ground there is a violation. We are relying on the good behavior of farmers. Gernes encouraged people if they see something that isn’t right, say something. Complaints can be made anonymously. Stine added that there is an enforcement program for noncompliant operations.
Myra Johnson said she agreed with Mr. Hein that farming as practiced today is not sustainable. However, she didn’t agree that 5,000 hogs is sustainable. Mark Spande also was in agreement that manure is good for cropland, but 5,000 hogs are not walking out on pasture in this case. We are talking two different worlds here.
Bonnie Haugen said she was pro ag. “Farming is everybody’s bread, butter, and water.”
Another question related to climate change was posed. Stine said there is not a written rule to anticipate the unexpected. It is always a challenge; hard to predict and measure. When standards are set, we do accommodate factors to protect against uncertainty.
The MPCA mission statement is, “Protect and improve environment and human health.” “Nick” asked Stine what that means to him. Stine replied that improving health is setting standards for air and water quality. He noted that MPCA owns the largest source of greenhouse gas/former dumps and burping landfills. He said he will think about the mission statement before he makes his decision.
George Spangler, retired U of M environmental science professor, said he was alarmed that there is a consideration for a large feedlot in this part of the state. He added the ERI tells us something of the porosities of the bedrock in this area. None of the state’s 10,000 lakes are in this area because it is a leaky bathtub. A thorough assessment is necessary.
There is another comment period which will end on December 11 at 4:30 p.m. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Charles Peterson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, Minn. 55155