Vreba-Hoff, DEQ reach settlement 6.13.07

Written by David Green.


A new waste treatment system, another financial penalty, limits on herd growth, enhanced reporting requirements, eventual closure of the Packard Road satellite lagoon, and the threat of new fines for unlawful discharges—those are among the points listed in a 62-page interim order announced June 6 in a Lansing circuit court.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Vreba-Hoff Dairy signed a settlement agreement June 6 to end legal action against dairy owners that began in January.

As in past settlements, accepting the document “does not constitute an admission by Vreba-Hoff that the law has been violated.” The DEQ has issued citations for discharges on numerous occasions since the first of two farms opened south of Hudson in 1998.

Vreba-Hoff will pay $180,000 in fines to the State of Michigan for violations and enforcement costs and must have a new waste treatment system in operation by Sept. 15. The new EarthMentor system—expected to cost in excess of $2 million—is described below.

Existing manure lagoons will be converted for use in the new six-step treatment system and additional cells will be constructed. A 30 million gallon, clay-lined treatment cell is under construction at the Vreba-Hoff II farm on U.S.-127 and a 23 million gallon cell is being built at Vreba-Hoff I on Dillon Highway.

Smaller treatment cells and manure processing buildings will also be constructed.

If the dairy company fails to treat manure as specified in the settlement, manure must be removed from the farm or the number of cows must be reduced.

Unlawful discharges will bring fines of up to $10,000 a day, depending on the nature of the discharge.

The satellite lagoon constructed early this year on Packard Road can be used for manure storage either for an additional 32 months or until all manure in the lagoon is treated via the new EarthMentor system.

In January, the DEQ sought a herd reduction of 40 percent, but through a mediation process, the population of approximately 6,530 cows was to be reduced to 6,266. This figure was reached before the settlement was announced, according Vreba-Hoff attorney Jack Van Kley.

When the Earth Mentor system is in operation, the dairy will be able to increase herd size to 6,466. When the primary treatment cell reaches operational capacity and is ready to discharge into the second treatment cell, the herd may be increased by no more than 100 cows a month until a maximum of 7,266 is reached.

Vreba-Hoff must refrain from building any new structures for animals for 10 years.

The dairy is faced with a several guidelines, such as informing the DEQ before land application, observing setbacks along streams, incorporating manure into the soil on the day it is applied, and regulating the amount of untreated manure in storage.

Michigan attorney general Mike Cox stated in a DEQ press release that, “Mega-farms require great regulatory scrutiny because they have the potential to severely impact the environment. The enforcement action taken was a necessary step to compel compliance with our environmental laws and again demonstrates my commitment to preserve and protect our natural resources.”

Tom Menke, a consultant with a new environmental management company, said, “Vreba-Hoff is pleased that all issues have been resolved, and is looking forward to proceeding with exciting new advances in technology.”


A settlement reached last week with the Michigan DEQ calls for installation of a new treatment system incorporating elements of a typical municipal system, along with enhancements to meet the needs of the dairy. The system is known as the EarthMentor Natural Nutrient Reclamation and Treatment System.

The six-step process is more extensive than many municipal systems, said Vreba-Hoff attorney Jack Van Kley, and it’s new for dairies to use this approach.

1. The first step, Van Kley said, is to install sand separation units at both farms to remove sand from manure. The sand is used as bedding in the barns.

The cyclone sand separation system creates a vortex inside a tank, explained Mark Knoblauch of Morenci, who serves as an environmental consultant to Vreba-Hoff. Knoblauch operated the City of Hudson’s wastewater treatment system for many years.

Between 75 and 80 percent of the sand will settle out, Knoblauch said, which will be composted to kill off pathogens.

2. Manure is then run through a system to begin separating solids from liquids. The solids could be run through the existing press system that Knoblauch has made operational or they could be composted without the press system.  Van Kley said the press system will be shut down when the new one is operational. After composting, the solids will be applied on fields.

3. Liquids are directed into the first settling basis for additional separation. Pumps will be used to remove solids.

4. Liquids then move on to a second settling basin to continue the settling process. Existing storage lagoons will be used in the process along with some new construction.

“You’re getting water with less and less manure in it,” Knoblauch said.

5. Anaerobic treatment begins in step 5, incorporating a lagoon holding up to 40 million gallons. The anaerobic process is just like Morenci’s wastewater system, Knoblauch said, where the lack of oxygen kills off pathogens over time.

The liquid will be held here for six months, he said, with additional settling occurring.

6. A holding cell will store the liquid before it’s used for irrigation.

“By the time it makes it to step six, it’s probably clean enough,” Van Kley said, although additional treatment will continue there.

It’s tested technology, Knoblauch said, although it’s not tested on cow manure. While municipal systems discharge into a river, liquid from the Vreba-Hoff system will only be used for field application.

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