ST. PAUL – About 14 Chokio residents traveled to St. Paul on Tuesday, Aug. 26, to attend the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency hearing at which Riverview Dairy was expected to be granted a permit to build the proposed Baker Dairy. The dairy would be located about five miles south of Chokio.

After testimony from several agencies, seven local residents, and Brad Fehr representing Riverview Dairy, the MPCA Citizens' Board rejected their staff's recommendation to grant a permit to Baker Dairy based just on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), and ruled instead that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would need to be completed before a permit is granted.

The Citizens’ Board consists of the MPCA commissioner and an eight-member panel appointed by the governor and by the state senate. The board considers and makes decisions on various environmental issues, including the determination of permits and impact statements.

Charles Peterson, project manager for the MPCA, and George Schwint, MPCA feedlot engineer, both who worked on the Environmental Assessment Worksheet for Riverview Dairy, opened the hearing with a presentation.

Peterson explained that the proposed dairy is to be built in Section 36 of Baker Township and house 9,200 animal units. The EAW was submitted and reviewed by MPCA staff, who worked with Riverview Dairy in preparing it.

Twenty-four comment letters were received, six of them from government agencies and 18 from citizens - all requesting that an Environmental Impact Statement be completed.

The concerns brought up in the letters addressed groundwater supply, odor and manure management, damage to roads and wetlands, and the socioeconomic concerns that large dairies are driving small farmers out of business and driving up the prices of cropland.

Once the MPCA staff had answered the board's questions, public testimony was heard from John Kleindl, Nathan Burmeister, Kathy DeBuhr, Lila Anderson and Jodi DeCamp, all of rural Chokio. Those who testified have also spoken at hearings held in Chokio. Their testimony reiterated their statements.

Burmeister, chairman of the Baker Township board, addressed the committee and said, "We sent a mailing to our registered voters [about the proposed dairy], and 70 percent of them returned that they are opposed to the new dairy."

Jodi DeCamp concluded the testimony by saying, “The Bake Dairy proposal only works for Baker Dairy. The EAW does not address the socioeconomic issues in our neighborhoods – the effect on property values and farming opportunities, the loss of families who would likely move, the affect on property taxes needed to maintain roads. These are the major concerns of those who live there. There is no quantifiable benefit to the local residents if Baker Dairy were to be built. There are many unanswered questions. We encourage you to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement.”

Board members asked many questions about the existing dairies, learning that Riverview has two dairies in Swift County, about 35 miles from the proposed site, and in Stevens County there will be four – if Baker is built – each being about four to six miles apart.

In the end, the board agreed that there were too many unanswered questions and denied their staff's recommendation to grant a permit to Baker Dairy.

The board directed the MPCA staff to conduct a health risk assessment in the area to look at cumulative impacts on health.

The board concluded, “The proposed project does have the potential of significant environmental effects. The MPCA is ordered to publish that the project will need to have an EIS and adopt a staff resolution that says that the Riverview LLP Baker Dairy project proposed in the EAW does have the potential for significant environmental effects.”

If Riverview conducts an Environmental Impact Study, it will need to address specific areas for finding of facts, including:

The lack of observation well data. The permit for the well was granted five years ago, Need recent data, in light of more irrigation wells in the area.

Socioeconomic impacts, including roads, highway safety, land and property values and people leaving.

Impaired waters. The fact that Riverview has not lined up adequate acres to spread its manure is a factor.

What are the cumulative impacts of hydrogen sulfides from actual monitoring, not just modeling?

Extreme weather events needs to be investigated further.

The number of animal feedlot activities in the surrounding area should be further examined.

At a meeting with the Baker Township board on Monday, Sept. 8, Fehr told the board that it was unlikely they could complete the Environmental Impact Statement.

This story was adapted from a piece published in the Sept. 11 edition of the Chokio Review. The information and quotes for this article were taken from a webcast of the MPCA Citizen’s Board Hearing which can be viewed at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/about-mpca/mpca-overview/mpca-citizens-board/mpca-citizens-board-archived-meeting-documents.html#august-2014.