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Broberg: Trout farm didnt follow the rules and now wants legislative remedy

Fri, Apr 28th, 2006
Posted in Commentary

Apparently, the owner and local supporters of Spring Valley Ponds think legislative action is necessary to finally get the permits for the fish hatchery and park. After so much time and money has been spent operating without the required permits, the owner now blames state regulatory agencies for keeping it from opening. If you believe the owners testimony at the hearing before Rep. Greg Davids House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, the agencies and a few elitist trout anglers have singled him out, are trying to thwart his visionary plan and threaten his business interests. We dont think any agencies are at fault here, we think the owner has a problem managing his own regulatory affairs because he constructed his facility before he received the necessary permits.Whenever Minnesotans plan water projects and propose construction and grading in trout stream tributaries, whenever private commercial projects capture, pipe and use the water from natural springs, and whenever someone proposes recreational fishing facilities designed to have crowds of kids, elderly and handicapped anglers, there are health, safety, welfare, water quality and environmental protection rules they must follow. Adequate plans must be submitted, reviewed and approved by the responsible agencies. But some people believe if you have enough money, enough influence and enough friends in high places it can actually be easier to get forgiveness than permission. We now have Rep. Davids committee reviewing the owners request for forgiveness. At the same time, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the public are still hoping to see detailed plans instead of more double-talk.The steps to apply for a permit for a water-related project are really pretty simple. Start by making a detailed plan. Understand the applicable regulations. Present your plan to the permitting authorities. Request and negotiate favorable conditions for your plan. Get the permits. Build the facility. And finally, comply with the conditions and regulations in your permits. This predictable path is followed on a daily basis at all levels of government. We cant understand why Spring Valley Ponds, a commercial operation that hasnt followed the rules since beginning operations in 2003, cant do so and now seeks special treatment from the legislature.Were concerned because detailed plans that satisfy the regulatory requirements have not yet been submitted to DNR and MPCA, but the facility is built. Were surprised the owner has such a wonderful promotional video of the fish park, yet he has just been fined by MPCA and is under a legal order to stop operations because of his failure to get the necessary DNR permits. But were especially concerned because historically, hatcheries around the country have a checkered history of degrading downstream trout stream ecosystems. Modern hatcheries, unlike old hatcheries, require special operations and strict controls on water quality discharge and temperature degradation, and they must deal with the threat of fish escape or disease spreading into Spring Valley Creek. Trout groups have long standing concerns about hatcheries on trout streams, especially those using the coldwater springs. Water temperature is our major concern. If Spring Valley Creek is cold enough, it will retain its standing as a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream. If it warms, the stream will support only suckers and chubs. Because water temperature is the major factor affecting the water chemistry, oxygen content, physiology, life-history and distribution of stream life, we believe the owner, DNR and MPCA need to assure the new Spring Valley Ponds operations wont be a detriment to Spring Valley Creek. We need a careful, rigorous and complete permit review process with conditions that protect the creek.Just a little digging into the rules shows the first thing water projects usually require is an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) designed to publicly disclose and review the project details. For complicated projects like Spring Valley Ponds, the EAW will help the public understand the project details and help the owner understand where various regulations apply. By law, the EAW is required before any work is done. By law, the EAW must be found by the county board to be adequate before any local, state or federal permits can be issued. We hope the legislature will stick to its state agenda and leave the environmental and regulatory review projects on trout streams to the professionals at DNR, MPCA and the county planning department.

Jeff Broberg of St. Charles is President of the Minnesota Trout Association

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