Weather Forecast


State finds Thief River Falls dairy in violation again

Excel Dairy, the rural Thief River Falls mega-dairy that closed in January after being cited as a public health hazard by the Minnesota Department of Health, continues to violate Minnesota air quality standards.

Between Aug. 29 and Sept. 21, the facility surpassed the state limit for hydrogen sulfide emissions of 30 parts per billion on 10 occasions, according to Gaylen Reetz, Minnesota Pol-lution Control Agency regional director. The highest reading during that period was 46, or more than 50 percent higher than the legal limit.

The readings were taken at monitoring devices located near the dairy's manure storage basins, or lagoons. Approximately 12 families live within a mile of the dairy facility.

Hydrogen sulfide emissions can result in a "rotten-egg" odor. The state Health Department says repeated exposure to hydrogen sulfide at levels found near the feedlot could cause "persistent eye and throat irritation, headache and nausea." The smell also causes stress, which could exacerbate diseases and other health problems.

Meanwhile, the MPCA expects the dairy to file an application by the end of October for a new operating permit, or an extension of the one-year permit it was granted in late April.

"We would anticipate they will apply for an extension," Reetz said. "They've also indi-cated a willingness to make some changes to the permit."

Any application requires a six-month review process.

After the application is filed, the MPCA would allow a 30-day comment period. Then, staff would follow up on the comments and plan to bring the application to the board for review, Reetz said, adding that it likely would be December, at the earliest, that the MPCA would hold a public hearing on the issue.

The dairy, which opened in 2007, stores manure in a series of three clay-lined basins. The manure is moved from basin to basin as it breaks down over time, much like a system of wastewater lagoons.

The dairy is licensed for up to 1,544 animal units or 1,100 cows. The facility has three free-stall barns, a sand separator building, a feed storage pad and the three earthen storage ba-sins.

In April, the MPCA revoked Excel's permit and issued a new one-year permit.

The new permit required the first basin to be sealed with a layer of straw; the second ba-sin would have an impermeable synthetic seal and allow for the collection and flaring of gases; and the third basin would have a permeable seal, letting some gases escape.

The requirements included cleaning the Basins Two and Three down to the clay liners, then placing the permanent basins.

Excel, which is owned by Dairy Dozen, based in Veblen, S.D., began cleaning out the ba-sins in July, according to Reetz.

"The hydrogen sulfide levels had been down significantly until Aug. 29," Reetz told the MPCA Citizens Advisory Board last week.

However, heavy rains in late summer caused manure to flow one basin to another, stirring up manure and resulting in the over-the-limit hydrogen sulfide emissions.

"Right now, they're out of compliance with their permit," Reetz said.

Neighbors repeatedly have told the MPCA Citizens Advisory Board that the continued vio-lation should be cause to permanently shut down the dairy.