Rice Lake Association gets restraining order to halt feedlot

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 5/12/98.

The Rice Lake Association has obtained a restraining order from the Ramsey County District Court to halt work on a proposed 2,000-head hog feedlot by Ken Gruenes, Eden Lake Township.

Ken Gruenes applied for the feedlot permit in October of 1997 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. They were officially issued the permit on Feb. 17. Ken and Joe Gruenes plan to erect three enclosed barns. One nursery barn will be for 2,000 piglets and the other two finishing hog barns are designed to hold 1,000 hogs each. All the barns will have poured-concrete manure pits, each able to hold just under 500,000 gallons of manure.

Joe Gruenes got his permit for the nursery last fall.

Ken Gruenes put the public notice in the Eden Valley Journal Patriot Feb. 4, the permit was issued Feb. 17, and the MPCA did not receive any phone complaints on the project until Feb. 20.

As part of the restraining order, the Rice Lake Association is requesting an environmental assessment from the Environmental Quality Board con-cerning the proposd feedlots and their impact on the areaís environment.

Area lake residents, who are neighbors to the feedlot, feel the feedlot will harm the lakes. ďIt is an extremely heated issue, Pat Billo, Rice Lake resident, said. ďThe feedlot is less than a mile from Browns Lake and the piglet nursery is directly down wind (about a half mile) from the nearest neighbor. A lot of people in the area will be affected,Ē she added.

Rice Lake Association members obtained the temporary restraining order on April 23 to stop work on the feedlot. A court hearing has been set for May 20 in Ramsey County District Court.

ďThe judge will be taking testimony from the MPCA and area residents,Ē Peterson said. ďThe judge will have the final say as to what is environmentally right for the area.Ē

Billo said they have a Bloomington lawyer and by having the case heard some place other than Stearns County, hopefully, it will ease the local tension. ďIt is an extremely heated issue in the area,Ē she stressed.

Three lakes and more than 300 homes will be affected by the feedlot. Lakes in the area are Deep Lake to the north, Browns Lake to the east and Rice Lake to the west which connects to Lake Koronis, according to Lonn Peterson, Deep Lake resident.

The MPCA did issue a certificate of noncompliance to Gruenes for not posting a notice in area newspapers within 10 days of applying for their permit. They waited 87 days before printing the notice. Peterson said ďThe certificate of noncompliance carries no penalty. Something more should have been done,Ē he added.

Ground hasnít been broken on the project, according to neighbors.

At a public informational meeting held at the Eden Valley-Watkins High School cafeteria in April, MPCA officials requested sheriffís deputies attendance at the meeting to see that the meeting did not get out of hand.

The majority of the crowd at that meeting was upset with the MPCA and their permitting process.

Peterson who lives a half mile away from the feedlot, said that the local residents right to petition granted under the Environmental Act of 1973 was denied in this case. Property owners (89 names total) on all three lakes filed separate petitions in mid-February with the MPCA to halt the feedlot. ďNobody would listen to our petitions or arguments until the restraining order was issued,Ē Peterson said.

According to Billo, they petitioned for a hearing and since the permit had already been granted by the MPCA, their petition was denied. ďThe MPCA didnít even inspect the project site until after the permit had been issued,Ē she added.

In research Billo has done on the feedlot issue, she has found that feedlots release 150 different gases into the air.

Peterson said the worst gas emitted from the feedlot will be hydrogen sulfide as it is odorless and follows the contour of the land and doesnít rise and disperse into the air. ďThe feedlot would be located on an elevated area which runs off toward the lakes in all directions,Ē he added.

ďWhat the most bizzare issue to me is that the same agency which grants feedlot permits also gives out clean water grants. This spring the Chain of Lakes received a $80,000 cleanwater partnership grant and a $320,000 state revolving fund loan and across the hallway the same agency issued feedlot permits for the same area,Ē Peterson said. ďThere are eight culverts in the area which run into Browns Lake alone,Ē Peterson said.

Peterson stressed that it is not the lake owners against the farmers. We just want what is right environmentally for the area.

Stearns County Commissioners set a moratorium in April on any future feedlots in the county for three months, until an ordinance that regulates all feedlots can be finished.

Because the Gruenesí already have permits, there is not much the county can do to stop them. They will not be affected by the moratorium.

The state currently regulates large animal farm operations, but Stearns County will take over that responsibility when it adopts a feedlot ordinance.

As a result of the feedlot issue, the Rice Lake Association board has been having internal problems and conflicts. Six members resigned on April 15 and at the April 18 meeting new board members were appointed to replace them. However, at a special April 25 meeting, the membership asked the old board to return, which they agreed to do.

Board members feel it will probably take a lawyer or two to figure out who is in charge.

Louis Theis, board president for about two years until April 15, said the association is designed to work with water quality. He objects to their name being connected with any lawsuits.

(Articles from the Eden Valley Journal Patriot and St. Cloud Times were also used to obtain background information.)

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