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Permit denied for large hog feedlot in southeastern Minnesota

December 18, 2018

Minnesotas top environmental regulator has denied a permit for a large swine processing facility in southeastern Minnesota, citing concerns about its impact on already-troubled groundwater nearby, but the decision has not quashed the project entirely.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine denied Catalpa Ags request for a general permit for its 4,890-hog facility, but the company can still obtain a more rigorous individual permit if it takes additional steps to prevent any leakage that would contaminate groundwater.

Stine said he made the decision in the interests of the entire region, which is sensitive to water contamination because of the porous, karst soil that can allow contaminants to reach the groundwater within a matter of minutes.

There are thousands of feedlots across the state, Stine said in a news conference Tuesday morning. This one was in a very sensitive area and did not make sense to me for a general permit.

At least one opponent of the feedlot said she was disappointed with the decision, because she had wanted the agency to order a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to fully identify risks associated with the project near Mabel, Minn. Now, landowner Al Hein can apply for an individual permit, without conducting a full review to address those issues, said Dayna Burtness, a hog farmer from nearby Spring Grove, Minn., who expressed her outrage during the commissioners question-and-answer session with reporters.

Weve been asking for an EIS, she said. This feels like a dodge.

Hein and representatives of Catalpa were not immediately available for comment on whether they would seek an individual permit. According to the MPCA, most of the states 1,300 feedlots are covered under general permits. Only about 70 have received the more-rigorous individual permits.

In addition to denying the general permit, Stine said he is recommending a state-funded study by the Environmental Quality Board of the entire region and its sensitivity to groundwater contamination. Already, 19 of 24 townships in Fillmore County have private wells with nitrate levels above health risk limits, according to a state Department of Agriculture Study.

That fact alone gave me great pause, the commissioner said. We know the source of nitrates in drinking water comes from our surface activities.

Catalpa Ags proposed facility would have included storage pits underneath its hog barns to contain as much as 7 million gallons of liquid manure. Opponents worried about leakage that could have increased nitrate levels in the groundwater, but proponents had argued that it would have allowed the manure to be applied as organic fertilizer to fields in the area and would have reduced the use of commercial fertilizers.

Groundwater contamination wasnt the only source of opposition. Hundreds of people had written letters to the agency and attended public hearings, expressing concerns about everything from the smell to the potential for the project to exacerbate or increase the number of sinkholes in the area.

Jeremy Olson 612-673-7744

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