Hearing to address changes at dairies 2012.01.25

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

The two former Vreba-Hoff Dairies located northwest of Morenci will soon be closed and prepared for sale.

A public hearing regarding a change in environmental regulations for the dairies is scheduled next week in Hudson. The Michigan DEQ will accept public opinion at a hearing beginning at 7 p.m. Feb. 1 in the Hudson High School cafeteria.

Rabo AgriFinance, the bank that foreclosed on the dairies in November 2010 after Vreba-Hoff fell behind in payments, established a business known as Southern Michigan Dairies (SMD) to manage the farms. 

Southern Michigan Dairy I located on Dillon Highway and the smaller Waldron Dairy on U.S. 127 were closed, leaving only Southern Michigan Dairy II on U.S. 127 in operation.

SMD is now selling off the dairy herd and that farm will also be closed until the facilities are sold.

The two larger dairies had operated under one wastewater discharge permit that covered both facilities. A National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit governs a range of farm activities, including the collection and treatment of manure, the land application of manure, and the management of storm water at a facility.

SMD is now seeking a separate permit for each dairy, a move that would allow the facilities to begin operations if they were sold separately.

Mike Bitondo, a CAFO specialist with the Michigan DEQ permit division, said the Waldron Dairy, if reopened, could continue operation with its existing permit that expires Oct. 1, 2013.

The new permit applications both list an expected herd size of 3,400 head, and both list a waste storage capability of 106 million gallons over a 36-month period. Waste produced is estimated at 35 million gallons annually.

Both applications list available acreage for land application of manure at about 4,400 acres.

Bitondo said last week he is seeking clarification from SMD regarding the duplicate numbers listed.

The new permits would eliminate most treatment system requirements that were put in place following repeated violations over several years of the state’s clean water regulations. The two Vreba-Hoff dairies were required to build and operate wastewater treatment systems. This made them the only dairies in the state forced to use municipal-type wastewater treatment systems for manure.

A composting system failed to operate as expected and state environmental officials found deficiencies in another attempt called the EarthMentor system.

With the new permits, Bitondo said, manure would not have to be treated before land application.

The new permits would include “unique land application prohibitions and restrictions, and storage structure upgrade due dates” that were part of an administrative consent order from March 2011.

For example, manure cannot be applied on land between the dates of Dec. 15 and March 15, except in an emergency. Vegetated buffers—at least 35 feet in width—must be created alongside ditches that are conduits to surface water, alongside surface water, and around open tile line intake structures. Manure cannot be applied on the buffers.

Currently, the farms are prohibited from applying waste in the Lime Lake watershed. The new permits would prohibit application only on, and two days before, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day.

FINE—SMD was fined $24,500 earlier this month for failing to properly close a waste storage structure at the Dillon Road dairy by Oct. 31, 2011, as agreed upon in the administrative consent order between SMD and the DEQ.

The original Oct. 1 deadline was extended through the end of the month, but the closure was not completed until Dec. 27.

A letter from the DEQ stated appreciation for the effort made toward meeting the deadline, but the agency insisted on levying the fine to maintain the integrity of the agreement between the two parties.

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