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After Catalpa denial, other feedlots will be judged ‘on own merits’

December 22, 2018
A large group attends an informational meeting at the Lewiston Community Center about a possible expansion to the feedlot at the Daley Farms of Lewiston.

ST. PAUL — When MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine denied the permit for the proposed Catalpa swine facility Tuesday, he also asked for a study that could have far-reaching ramifications.

Citing elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water in the karst region of Southeast Minnesota, Stine said a study of nitrates in drinking water would need to be done, and he asked the state’s Environmental Quality Board to step forward and conduct a generic environmental impact statement.

“The Catalpa project is the first big new feedlot application we’ve had in Fillmore County since extensive data on nitrate contamination of drinking water wells has come out,” Stine said. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has begun a survey of wells in the state.

In Fillmore County, 19 of 24 townships have private wells at or above the health risk limit for nitrates, which is 10 milligrams per liter, according to the Department of Agriculture survey.

While hundreds have supported an EIS, an in-depth environmental study, for the proposed Catalpa Ag swine facility in Fillmore County, Stine says the issue is bigger than any one feedlot or farm.

Will Seuffert, executive director of the EQB, said once a formal request has been submitted, a generic EIS will be put on an upcoming board agenda.

How that request is made to the EQB will help to determine both the scope and the time frame for completing a generic EIS.

“Until we see a formal request, I cannot speculate on the timing or scope,” Seuffert said.

Cathy Rofshus, a spokeswoman for the MPCA, said the decision on the Catalpa project and the call for a generic EIS should not have any impact on two proposed feedlot expansions also located in the region.

Daley Farms, a dairy near Lewiston in Winona County, is planning to add roughly 1,800 animal units to its current operation. Scotch Prairie Farms near Lake City has a planned expansion of more than 2,100 animal units. Both proposed projects have submitted environmental assessment worksheets and are under MPCA review.

“The Catalpa decision has no impact on either Daley Farms or Scotch Prairie,” Rofshus said. “The commissioner will determine each one on its own merits.”

In the interim, Rofshus said, feedlots that meet MPCA standards should feel free to submit plans for expansion without concern that the generic EIS will impact their plans.

Al Hein, the landowner and a majority shareholder in Catalpa LLC, told Minnesota Public Radio he plans to apply for a new permit and is happy the MPCA did not order an EIS. “That would have had broad implications for animal agriculture in Minnesota,” he said. Hein, who currently farms corn and soybeans, said low crop prices prompted his family to look for opportunities to diversify their business. He said modern farm technology, including monitoring equipment, can protect the environment.

Ben Daley, from Daley Farms, said the Department of Agriculture study completed a few years ago was fairly extensive, and he does not believe the decision on Catalpa or the call for a generic EIS should impact the decision on his business plans.

That study, he said, showed a few bad wells that were likely contaminating other wells. Daley added that nothing has tied large feedlots to nitrate contamination.

In addition to Stine, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said she believes a study of nitrate contamination is important in order to find the source of contamination, whatever it might be.

“The geology and topography of southeastern Minnesota’s karst region make it extremely vulnerable to water contamination,” Malcolm said. “Preventing additional problems is far less costly than leaving it to additional private well owners or communities to treat their water for nitrates.”

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