By DAVID GREEN
Construction began last week on a manure storage lagoon for the Vreba-Hoff dairy farms as existing lagoons reach full capacity. The new structure is located about two miles east of the company’s Dillon Highway farm.
Construction equipment was moved onto the site before Christmas to begin excavation of the 12 million gallon, clay-lined lagoon, located off Packard Road, about half a mile west of Bothwell Highway.
Transporting manure to the site by tanker truck will require travel along Dillon and Packard—both unimproved roads.
Vreba-Hoff spokesperson Cecelia Conway said the additional capacity is needed due to maintenance problems with the new press treatment system and wet fall weather following the corn harvest.
Dairy co-owner Stephen VanderHoff met Dec. 11 with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) after the company received a noncompliance letter from the DEQ and the state attorney general’s office citing several problems at the dairy, including a backlog of manure.
The letter stated the existing lagoons were over-full and in violation of freeboard requirements—the allowed distance from the manure to the top of the lagoon wall.
After a copy of the letter was obtained by the Toledo Blade, an article quoted a statement from the attorney general’s office stating “your management of the CAFO waste generated at your two dairies has deteriorated seriously over the last several months.”
Nicole Zacharda of the DEQ’s water bureau enforcement unit said her agency learned about the new lagoon by second-hand reports.
“We know there’s some construction taking place, but we have no involvement in that,” she said Friday.
Zacharda said there are a number of corrective actions possible, but no course of action was decided between the two parties.
“There’s been no approval of anything they suggested on our part.”
Zacharda said Vreba-Hoff obtained a local soil erosion control permit for construction.
The DEQ’s Rachel Matthews said there are specifications to follow for a manure storage structure. Construction details would be reviewed by the agency before the new lagoon is put into service.
Conway expects to have the lagoon in use by the end of next week.
Vreba-Hoff invested a million dollars in a new press treatment system to remove most of the liquid from manure. Compost was to be made from the solid material in an effort to end the application of liquid manure on farm land.
Problems with the system have contributed to the backlog of manure. The noncompliance letter cites “apparent problems with the press treatment system.”
In October, the DEQ documented that the system was not in operation during numerous inspections and noted, “...based on your estimate of production, you should be running the system no less than 12 hours a day, 365 days a year in order to treat all manure currently being produced annually.”
When the system was opened for public viewing in late July, Stephen VanderHoff said the system would require 24-hour attention as he intended to run manure produced daily through the system as well as add manure already stored in storage structures.
“It’s not living up to anyone’s expectations of its treatment capabilities,” Zacharda said.
Conway described the system as very complex and still in the fine-tuning stage. Enhancements to the system are planned, including the installation of a sand removal device.
Sand is used as bedding for cattle, but interferes with the press system. She said they’re looking into a cleaning device that would allow recycling of the sand bedding.
“The technology is always advancing,” she said.
In addition to problems with the treatment system, Vreba-Hoff was cited for violations including failure to inspect tile lines, lack of monthly progress reports, lack of maintenance, failure to meet deadlines in implementing storm water management practices, and a discharge into Covell Drain, a tributary of Bean Creek.
Following field application of manure Nov. 25, testing indicated E. coli bacteria levels exceeding state standards by six times.
The two Vreba-Hoff dairies are under a December 2004 consent order from the attorney general’s office due to numerous problems in the past. An agreement was reached in January 2005 that led to the installation of the press treatment system.
Conway said the dairy’s expansion plans will be delayed until manure processing is back on track, but she’s still anticipates growth.
The dairy applied to the Michigan Department of Agriculture for an increase in the herd size that would raise the number of cows at Vreba-Hoff I to 3,200 head, the same size as the company’s Vreba-Hoff II site on U.S. 127, Conway said.- Jan. 4, 2007