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Judge Orders Dairy to Curb Odor

August 2, 2008

By Ryan Schuster, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.

Aug. 2–Excel Dairy near Thief River Falls must curb the hazardous fumes that have forced some residents to temporarily leave their homes, a district court judge ordered Wednesday.

In an interim order filed in Marshall County, Judge Jeffrey Remick gave the dairy’s owners two weeks to have repairs it made to a manure storage lagoon inspected and certified and to fill and cover the lagoon.

He also ordered the owners to curb the odor at two other lagoons and submit a plan to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency within 10 days.

Rick Millner, chief executive of Prairie Ridge Management, which manages the 1,500-head dairy, said the company will do as the court ordered.

He expects the smell to begin subsiding in about two weeks when the ordered work is completed but said it might take a month to six weeks for the smell to reach an acceptable level.

“We’re going to work with Excel and do our best to make it work,” said MPCA spokeswoman Amy Rudolph. “It’s going to require some time. We all understand this can’t happen in a day. Our goal is to have Excel back in compliance with their permit. This will hopefully ultimately lead to some relief for residents.”

Many residents have returned to their homes, said one of them, Jeff Brouse, but “it’s still very bad.”

Excel Dairy has already complied with some of the judge’s orders.

The MPCA has inspected repairs to the first lagoon, Rudolph said.

The dairy is filling the lagoon with manure and has been adding straw to encourage the formation of a natural crust that’s now in place, Millner said.

The court is to hold a hearing to review Excel Dairy’s progress in September. The court reserves the right to take further action if needed, the court order said.

Cause/effect

The judge’s order comes out of a lawsuit that the MPCA and state attorney general jointly filed in June, accusing Excel Dairy and its parent company, Dairy Dozen, of repeatedly violating state environmental laws and feedlot operating permits.

Using hand-held measurement devices, residents had found that hydrogen sulfide levels at the dairy were more than 200 times higher than state law allows.

Continuous air monitors installed on the dairy’s perimeter recorded more than 300 state air-quality violations between May and June.

Millner said that was because the MPCA had ordered the dairy to clean out and repair a lagoon after residents raised concerns that the liner might be leaking into the groundwater.

The draining of the lagoon agitated the manure and stirred up the high readings, Millner said. But it turned out that the liner didn’t need repairs, he said, and minor repairs done to the sides of the lagoon could have been done without draining it.

“We don’t like the fact that it smells,” Millner said. “We don’t like the fact that we had to clean it out. We don’t like the fact that the MPCA caved into the neighbors in the first place to cause this problem.”

Judge Remick’s ruling found that the primary source of the odor was the MPCA-required repair of the lagoon but said that does not give the dairy the right to exceed air-quality standards.

More enforcement

Since the lawsuit was filed, the MPCA’s Rudolph said the dairy has continued to violate state laws.

The attorney general’s office is still hearing complaints from residents, spokesman Ben Wogsland said. “We’re continuing to work with the citizens to monitor the situation and get testimony from them.”

The judge’s order appears to be just the start of further state action against Excel Dairy.

Rudolph said the MPCA continues to investigate the dairy and plans actions that she declined to describe for legal reasons.

Wogsland said the attorney general is still pursuing a case against the dairy, despite the temporary injunction ordering the dairy and MPCA to work together.

Two weeks ago, Excel Dairy heard from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which cited the dairy for violating the Clean Air Act and state air-quality laws. The EPA could fine the dairy or take it to civil or criminal court.

Schuster covers business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to rschuster@gfherald.com. Read his business blog at www.areavoices.com/bizbuzz.

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