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Prairie View Dairy in Delton Exnading Herd

A 40 percent expansion. More animals mean more manure, a key concern for those speaking out.

Christian Yonkers

Contributing Writer

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has amended a permit allowing Prairie View Dairy in Delton to expand its existing 2,250 herd to 3,150, a 40 percent expansion. The ruling came after a public comment period last fall, in which dozens of citizens raised objections based on the farm's past violations.

Prairie View Dairy received a violation notice after a 2015 manure runoff into nearby Gilkey Lake, which resulted in a fine and consent order from the DEQ. Including the Gilkey Lake incident, Prairie View Dairy has received six new violation notices since 2015.

The newly granted expansion resulted after Prairie View Dairy failed to notify the DEQ of the construction of additional animal housing and waste-storage facilities. During a July 2017 inspection, DEQ staff discovered Prairie View Dairy had expanded its herd from a permitted 2,250 head to 3,150, according to a July 20, 2018, DEQ report. Partial construction of housing and waste storage facilities already were under way, a violation of its pre-existing permit. DEQ officials urged Prairie View to submit an application to allow the expansion. Prairie View Dairy received a violation notice for the offense and submitted an updated plan to the DEQ.

More animals mean more manure, a key concern for those speaking out against the expansion. Manure leaks can feed algae blooms in lakes and streams, and it was a factor in contaminated drinking water for Toledo and southern Michigan in 2014. Water tested at Gilkey Lake shortly after Prairie View Dairy's 2015 leak exhibited elevated levels of nutrients necessary for algae blooms, according to a DEQ report.

In addition to past environmental violations, many other concerns were raised in the public comment period, including:

• Significant risk to Crooked Lake and other nearby water sources

• Potential for high nitrate levels in drinking water wells

• Limited fields available on which to spread waste

• Need for increased monitoring and accountability to ensure Prairie View Dairy's waste management practices do not threaten the surrounding ecosystem

The DEQ responded to several comments in its Responsiveness Summary issued four months after the close of the public comment period. The DEQ did not indicate that the expansion would negatively affect the surrounding community.

The expansion must adhere to state and federal regulations as stated in the permit, such as 100-foot buffers between manure and waterways and contingency waste storage facilities.

Other collateral issues, such as odor and truck traffic, are not under the purview of the DEQ and were not a factor in the decision to grant the permit.

The increase at Prairie View means it will generate 27.6 million gallons of waste per year, an annual increase of 5.4 million gallons, according to the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

“They're basically generating 25 percent more waste in an area that already has many factory farms and lots of waste being applied on various lands,” Gail Philbin, director of Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter, said. “And there are lots of water bodies [nearby].

“It's difficult for the environment to absorb that level of waste and maintain a healthy ecosystem.”

Groups such as the Sierra Club are putting more pressure on Michigan concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

According to recent Sierra Club estimates, 300 CAFOs are in operation throughout the state. The DEQ MiWaters database shows Barry County is home to six CAFOs, among which the DEQ has posted nine violation notices since 2015. Six of those nine violations were from Prairie View.

For Philbin and many Barry County residents, it's not a question if CAFOs with past violations will breach their permits, but when. Philbin said she believes the overworked and underfunded DEQ will have trouble monitoring CAFOs and enforcing the laws on the books.

“Gov. Snyder may be gone, but the legacy of his DEQ and its approach to favoring polluters lives on,” Philbin said. “You see it in Michigan’s struggling rural communities and compromised waterways, which are substantially less protected from the public health threat of hundreds of polluting factory farms that operate with impunity across the state.”

The majority of violations are called in by citizens or are self-reported by farms, Philbin said. The last time the DEQ inspected Prairie View was August 2018.

“The DEQ has a lot of good people on staff, but they've had a lot of cuts in recent years that prohibit them from doing their job well,” Philbin said. “They're doing the best they can to track down these issues and monitor factory farms … but they can't be everywhere all the time.”

She said she is concerned about the over-saturation of CAFOs in places like Barry County, whose terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to large manure spills.

“It just speaks to the precariousness of the system that we have now and the need for more investment in monitoring and more stringent permits,” Philbin said. “If you have 300 factory farms in the state, there's a lot that could compromise the quality of our waters.”

Prairie View Dairy representatives did not respond to a quest for comments.

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