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Paynesville Press - October 15, 2003

KLA, watershed district propose a plan to protect Lake Koronis from runoff

By Bonnie Jo Hanson and Michael Jacobson

The Koronis Lake Association and the North Fork Crow River Watershed District want to eliminate a culvert that was once a center of debate over whether a feedlot was polluting Lake Koronis.

The feedlot which is located on a hill near Lake Koronis was closed in late July after Meeker County officials ruled that run-off from the feedlot could harm the lake and that strong odors interfered with residential development in the area. Now, a plan is being worked on to divert the run-off into nearby marshlands and the Crow River.

The farm is owned by Larry and Gary Roberg, and the feedlot was operated most recently by Jason Roberg, who all thought that the feedlot was grandfathered from the 1983 Meeker County zoning ordinance that started regulations for feedlots in the county.

The Meeker County Planning Commission, however, ruled in May 2003 that the feedlot was not grandfathered because the Robergs did not purchase the property until 1985. The commission also found that the feedlot endangered public health, negatively affected neighboring residential property, and would not be compatible with existing land use in the immediate vicinity.

Even closed, the former feedlot remains a threat to Lake Koronis' ecosystem because phosphorous in the soil could make its way into Lake Koronis through a heavily-eroded gully and a culvert that drains groundwater at the site into the lake, said Koronis Lake Association president Peter Jacobson, who is also publisher of the Paynesville Press.

"I think there's a lot of flash pollution that comes from that site, and something needs to be done," added Allan Kueske, director of the North Fork Crow River Watershed District. Representatives from the Koronis Lake Association, from the watershed district, and from the Meeker County Soil and Water Conservation District recently met with Meeker County planning and zoning officials to urge the county to minimize the amount of nutrients that could find their way to the lake from the former feedlot.

The county engineer suggested that removing the six-foot culvert and rerouting drainage to a nearby wetland could reduce the impact of run-off, since phosphorous and other nutrients could be absorbed by marsh plants. This would avoid the run-off entering Lake Koronis at all, since the diversion would enter the river downstream from the lake. That culvert, installed in 1988 when the nearby lake lots were developed, was one of the sources of debate that brought the feedlot issue to a head.

Neighbors started complaining about run-off through the culvert and smells from the feedlot in 2000, causing the county and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to inspect the farm operation. The Robergs had as many as 160 cattle in the feedlot in 2000.

The Robergs were notified of the need for a permit from the county and from MPCA in September 2000. In 2001, the Robergs applied for a conditional-use permit from the county but did not finish the application process.

In 2002, the Robergs were issued a feedlot permit from MPCA, which recognized the potential for run-off into the lake if the Robergs weren't diligent about their manure handling procedures.

In May 2003, the Robergs' permit application from the county was denied a second time, and they were ordered to close the feedlot by August. This meant reducing the number of animals on the farm to fewer than 10 animal units.

At that time, the Robergs, who did not wish to speak with the Press for this story, told the county that they would be willing to do a diversion project, in order to keep their feedlot, but that they did not think manure was the run-off problem.

"I really think there is a run-off problem, but the manure run-off isn't the problem," said Jason Roberg at the public hearing about the feedlot in May 2003. "(The cattle) are all inside all the time."

"Stuff ain't running down into the lake," added Larry Roberg. "With all the tests that are so high, I say you can move the cattle out, but you had better have another plan to clean up the lake because the cattle (are) not the problem."

At that county hearing, KLA vice president Dale Lorenz cited a grab sample from the culvert in March 2003, when the culvert was running. The ammonia level in water from the culvert was 12 times as much as is typical in lake water and the phosphorus level was twice that of water in Lake Koronis.

"I think the concern is about the proximity of the feedlot to a recreational lake," Jacobson said at the public hearing in May 2003. "This feedlot is one that is very close to the lake, and we are concerned because it is a fairly steep slope down to the lake. We are concerned that we are getting nutrients into the lake and fecal coliform into the lake. We are concerned about water quality, plain and simple."

According to Kueske, nutrients from the feedlot could remain in the soil for years. Under the best circumstances, if grass is allowed to grow and animals are not present, it could still take five years or more for the land to recover, but even then, because some nutrients remain in soil, the potential for flash pollution (run-off triggered by heavy rainfall) remains high because of the way the property lays, he added.

For years, there was a potential for long-term pollution problems there, but it took the feedlot issue to bring the problem out into the open, said Kueske.

According to John Boe of the Meeker County Planning and Zoning Office, plans are still preliminary, but the county wants to protect the lake. Initially, county engineers will begin elevation studies to find out if moving the culvert is feasible, and county officials will continue to study the impact of run-off to the lake and try to find ways to minimize it, said Boe.

There is no way to estimate how much a diversion project could cost yet nor if the Robergs still would be interested in allowing a diversion project on their property, but, according to Kueske, the county engineer suggested that there may be some grant money available to help pay for a project once it is planned.

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