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Opposition agrees to extend DNR pines-to-prairie extension study

The Department of Natural Resources and petitioners Toxic Tators, Land Stewardship Project and Pesticide Action Network have reached a “mutally agreed upon” 30-day extension to continue conversation on RD Offutt’s proposed expansion in the Pineland Sands Aquifer.  The petition originates from the potato producer’s proposed irrigation sites above the aquifer spanning Hubbard, Cass, Becker and Wadena counties. This raised concerns from the environmental groups on contaminants being drawn into the groundwater.  “No decision has been reached on the petition calling for an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW),” DNR assistant commissioner Barb Naramore said Tuesday. Currently, one irrigation permit has been issued with four pending.  

“This will allow us to continue conversations. It’s clear to us there are questions and concerns regarding the Pineland Sands study,” she said.  In 2015, the DNR had ordered a discretionary EAW after RD Offutt had applied for 54 well permit applications. In September, after the number was reduced to five applications, the DNR determined an EAW unnecessary. One permit has subsequently been issued.  

Petitioners state five new irrigation wells will use more than 166 million gallons of water per year. They have also listed numerous concerns regarding RDO’s “water- and chemical-intensive farming practices.”  “We’re here to protect  the water. We want our water to be safe to fish in, to swim in, to drink,” Toxic Taters Coordinator Amy Mondloch said in a statement earlier this week.  “We want it to be safe to breathe the air in our communities. We need the strongest environmental review possible. If sitting down with RDO and the DNR could mean strengthening the environmental  review, we’re willing to do that,” Mondloch said.   

In November, the groups petitioned the Environmental Quality Board for an EAW.  A better mechanism is a study that’s not specific to the permits, but to look more generally, on a broader basis regarding the future land use in this area, Naramore said.  “We want to address concerns with petitioners and the company,” Naramore said. “We have mutually agreed to talk further on the scope of a special study,” she said.  “Regardless of what we decide, a special study is needed. An EAW may be too narrowly scoped. We want to look at this on a broader scale.”