UPDATE: Court Rejects Attempt by Corporate Ag to Squelch Public Comment on Environmental Review for Mega-Dairy

LEWISTON, Minn. — Corporate agriculture interests have failed in their attempt to limit the time the public has to submit comments to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) about a massive dairy project’s potential environmental risks. A lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County District Court seeking to prevent the comment period for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) on the Daley Farms dairy expansion in southeastern Minnesota’s Winona County from being extended until Nov. 15. Earlier this month, at the request of local residents, the MPCA extended the comment period on the EAW from Oct. 31 until Nov. 15. The lawsuit, which claimed that the MPCA lacked authority to extend the comment period, was filed by the AgriGrowth Council, which represents the state’s largest corporate agriculture interests. Also named as plaintiffs were several commodity groups and the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

Judge Jennifer L. Frisch today dismissed the injunction filed against the MPCA. The lawsuit claimed that the proposers of the massive dairy would be harmed by the two-week extension. Judge Frisch disagreed, stating in her ruling that, “The harm (to the public) in not allowing the extended comment period is significant.”

Ann Cohen and Betsy Lawton, attorneys with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), intervened in the case, arguing that the extension granted by MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine is legal, fair and appropriate, and that ending it prematurely would harm commenters, including MCEA and Land Stewardship Project members, as well as experts weighing in on the EAW and the public.

Daley Farms is proposing increasing the size of its herd near Lewiston from 1,728 to 4,628 cattle. This would double the liquid manure and waste water production of this operation to 46 million gallons a year, and require adding a manure basin the size of three football fields at a depth of 16 feet. The raw liquid waste would sit on top of sensitive karst geology, which is composed of porous limestone that is highly prone to sinkholes and disappearing springs. This geology can allow surface pollution to enter the groundwater in a matter of hours. The dairy expansion would use 92 million gallons of the area’s groundwater annually. The nearby city of Lewiston (pop. 1,506) uses 33.6 million gallons a year. Daley Farms is surrounded by towns plagued with nitrate levels that are near or above the maximum allowable nitrate level of 10 mg/L.

When demanding the comment period extension, local residents noted that they needed more time to review the 235-page EAW, as well as an additional 800 pages of permit application materials. The extension was needed in part to accommodate the fact that local farmers are in the middle of harvest.

Documents related to this lawsuit are available by contacting the Land Stewardship Project’s Barb Sogn-Frank via e-mail or at 612-722-6377.