Two advocacy groups who claim that a Minnesota state agency ignored state law in allowing a Winona County dairy farm to proceed with its expansion plans will get their day in court.
The Land Stewardship Project, a nonprofit advocacy group, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy challenged decisions by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to permit the expansion of Daley Farms feedlot near Lewiston. The groups claim the MPCA erroneously denied a request for a contested case hearing, and issued a permit that fails to comply with the Clean Water Act.
The case will be heard by a three-member appellate court at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, July 17. The judges assigned to the case are Louise Dovre Bjorkman, Lucinda E. Jesson and Diane B. Bratvold.
LSP announced the appeal filing in February.
“The Land Stewardship Project feels strongly that in making this decision to not do an EIS, the MPCA failed in its obligation to protect the natural resources of rural communities, especially groundwater,” LSP organizer Barb Sogn-Frank said in a statement in February. “Under Minnesota law, an EIS is required when a project has the ‘potential for significant environmental impacts.’ In this case, this standard was clearly met, and the record ignored by the MPCA in failing to order an EIS.”
Daley Farms, the largest feedlot in Winona County, wanted to increase its herd from 1,728 cows and calves to 4,628. This amounts to an increase from 2,275 to 5,968 animal units, the measurement used by the MPCA and other state agencies to equalize manure output from different animals.
The Winona County Board of Adjustment denied a variance request to exceed the animal unit cap in February. That decision is currently being challenged in court by the Daley family, which claims three of the five board members displayed a clear conflict of interest due to affiliations with LSP. Documents filed in Winona County Court earlier this week indicate the case is entering the discovery phase, and a trial could be held early next year.
Ben Daley, a fifth-generation farmer whose family has run the dairy for more than 100 years, said in February he wasn’t surprised LSP was part of a challenge against MPCA’s decision.
“When you look at the history of what Land Stewardship tries to do in these cases ... they don’t like farms getting larger,” Daley said. “What they really try to do is elongate the whole process, make it as long as possible, and hope they come across someone, one person, who agrees with them.”
The divisive issue garnered considerable attention from the public. During a lengthy public comment period, the MPCA received more than 600 letters from around the state.
Proponents of the expansion pointed to the Daleys’ track record and century-long involvement in the community as evidence of the family’s commitment to protecting the environment.
Meanwhile, opponents called on the MPCA to require an environmental impact statement, citing the potential environmental impacts.
During the comment period, six agriculture trade organizations, acting on behalf of Daley Farms, filed a complaint in Ramsey County District Court, claiming the MPCA unlawfully extended the public comment period. A judge denied the injunction, however.
As part of his decision to permit the expansion, then-MPCA commissioner John Linc Stine has called on the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to conduct a generic environmental-impact statement in southeast Minnesota, citing the region’s susceptibility to water contamination.
According to Cathy Rofshus of the MPCA, a large number of wells in southeast Minnesota are already contaminated by unsafe levels of nitrates and bacteria.
Because of this, the MPCA often requires farmers to take steps to mitigate the risk of groundwater contamination to maintain their permits.
Daley said in January he is well aware of the region’s water problems and has committed to taking any steps deemed necessary to mitigate any risk to the environment.
“Water quality is a huge concern for us as well,“ he said adding that he’s willing to plant cover crops, delay the spreading of manure on fields in the fall until the temperature has fallen below 50 degrees, and apply manure in the spring.
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