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Dairy expansion defies critics (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

The owners of the Rosendale Dairy are so confident they will receive the final state permit for an estimated $35 million expansion, they already started the second phase of construction.

The concentrated animal feeding operation permit from the state Department of Natural Resources would let the farm in Rosendale add 4,000 cows. The expansion project — with a new free-stall barn, dairy and electrical system — is designed to accommodate those cows.

“As long as we comply with the law, the permit has to be issued,” said Jim Ostrom, one of the dairy’s managing partners. “We’re following every one of the rules.”

But there are no guarantees, said Gordon Stevenson, DNR runoff management section chief.

“I wouldn’t agree with Mr. Ostrom that this is a slam-dunk by any means,” he said. “Even though it is possible to construct a CAFO without this permit, it’s risky because then they’ve invested in a facility they can’t afford.”

That’s exactly the goal of those who are urging the DNR to reject the permit.

“The DNR has never denied a CAFO permit before, so it’s no surprise that they’re confident,” Jamie Saul, an attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, said of the dairy owners. “But our single biggest concern is the effect of animal waste on groundwater and surface water quality in the area.”

Saul said the project needs a wastewater-management plant or at least wells that allow for the testing of groundwater.

“I understand that there are valuable nutrients in waste,” he said. “But there are also chemicals and compounds with no benefits to crops.”

But the DNR, Stevenson said, cannot require the dairy owners to build a wastewater-treatment plant.

And the dairy, Ostrom said, will not build a plant.

“Technology is still a few years away from being able to capture and reuse all the nutrients in suspended solids,” he said.

Saul said the dairy’s reason for not building the plant likely is far simpler.

“If the DNR doesn’t require it,” he said, “why should they?”

Environmental groups earlier this year sued the state over DNR permits issued for the first phase of the dairy expansion. Saul said the groups are arguing the DNR did not follow Clean Water Act requirements to determine if the amount of waste discharged from the expanded dairy would affect surrounding water.

Saul said he expects a hearing early next year.

Stevenson said the DNR likely will make a permit decision in January.

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