Citizens Push MPCA for EIS Despite Agency’s 3rd Postponement of Decision
NEWBURG TOWNSHIP, Minn. — The legal mandate for ordering an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a controversial hog operation in southeastern Minnesota’s Fillmore County has been met, according to a thorough analysis of the public record recently completed by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) and Responsible Ag in Karst Country (RAKC). This analysis includes over 770 comments submitted as part of the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) completed for the proposed Catalpa, LLC 4,980-head (1,992 animal units) factory hog farm. The proposed factory farm would be located in Fillmore County’s Newburg Township and would annually generate 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure while using 8.8 million gallons of the area’s groundwater. The proposed location is in southeastern Minnesota’s vulnerable karst country. The decision on whether to order an EIS lies with John Linc Stine, the Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
“The proposal is irresponsible and risky. The future of our community requires an EIS,” said local hog farmer Dayna Burtness. “The law is in place to protect the viability and health of rural communities. Why won’t MPCA Commissioner Stine follow the law and order an EIS?”
The project has been controversial from the start. During the recently completed MPCA public comment period on Catalpa, LLC’s EAW, of the 771 comments submitted, 760 expressed concern about the proposal. During the comment period, 409 commenters specifically identified themselves as local residents and 43 specifically identified themselves as farmers. More than 580 commenters explicitly called for an EIS (only six comments were in favor of the operation).
Minnesota law states that, “An EIS shall be ordered for projects that have the potential for significant environmental effects” (Minnesota Statute 4410.1700 Subpart 1).
Members of LSP and RAKC have sent this analysis to Governor Mark Dayton and MPCA Commissioner Stine, along with a request to meet with them the week of Sept. 10. Over 50 local residents met with Governor Dayton on July 3 regarding the proposed factory farm and the need for an EIS. The letter sent to the Governor and Commissioner Stine details the chief reasons the state standard for an EIS has clearly been exceeded:
• Six impacted local units of government or representatives of local units of government stated that an EIS is necessary, including the Newburg Township Board of Supervisors, the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners (by vote on July 3), the Fillmore County Commissioner of District 5 (where the project is proposed), the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, the Mayor and City Council of Canton, and the Mayor of Mabel.
• The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) expressed deep concerns about the potential environmental effects. For example, the agency’s comment stated: “We are concerned that bacteria levels remain elevated in many streams [in the watershed of the proposed facility] despite numerous efforts at reduction. Adding a new potential source of bacteria at the scale of this proposed facility is inconsistent with the conclusions in the WRAPS [Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies] report regarding bacteria impairments in the Root River watershed.”
• Minnesota’s leading karst expert, Dr. Calvin Alexander of the University of Minnesota, investigated the proposed site and his research led him to call for an EIS. Through a limited LiDAR exercise and on-site fieldwork, he identified 37 sinkholes, potential sinkholes and springs — only three of which were actually listed in the EAW. He wrote: “Such a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] will inevitably inflict major, damaging, area-wide environmental impacts if permitted and constructed… There is no reasonable doubt that such a facility will scientifically impact the surrounding environment in a detrimental way.”
• In 2000, in a very similar case, when Fillmore County residents challenged a negative declaration on the need for an EIS for a large dairy in karst country, a Minnesota District Court overturned the decision and required an EIS to be completed. The Judge cited in his ruling the failure of the MPCA to address the issue of sinkhole collapse beneath the manure lagoon, which has happened three times at other waste facilities in recent years.
On Sept. 5, the MPCA announced its third delay on the decision to order an EIS. The MPCA’s decision to repeatedly delay this process clearly indicates that the agency acknowledges that there is the “potential for significant environmental effects,” which by law means it’s time to order an EIS. The MPCA says it needs time to complete new studies, which are being conducted because of the issues raised by the public. However, the purpose of an EIS is to complete such studies.
“Over 750 citizens, every local unit of government, and the state’s leading karst expert have demonstrated the need for an EIS. It’s time for the MPCA to quit kicking the can down the road and order the EIS,” said Newburg Township farmer Mark Spande. “This proposed facility hangs over our heads every day. They need to buck up and do what’s right.”
On Aug. 23, Newburg Township adopted a moratorium that includes a prohibition on new and expanding feedlots above 500 animal units. However, until Catalpa LLC has withdrawn its permit application, the decision on whether to order an EIS for the operation lies with the MPCA.
A copy of the analysis letter sent to Governor Dayton and Commissioner Stine is available here.