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E-M:/ Sierra Club adds State to River Ridge citizen's lawsuit

Enviro-Mich message from "Anne Woiwode" <anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org>

                                                   Sierra Club
                                                   News Release

For Immediate Release
Contact: Anne Woiwode 517-484-2372
July 9, 2001
Aaron Isherwood 415-977-5680

          Statewide Implications for Water Permitting

(LANSING) The Sierra Club today named the Engler Administration as a
defendant in its lawsuit to stop water pollution from an Ottawa County
animal factory. The State of Michigan's refusal to process water permits
submitted under the federal Clean Water Act for River Ridge Farms interferes
with the Sierra Club's requests to the court to bring the animal factory
into compliance with the law. If successful, the Sierra Club's claim could
have implications for all animal factories in Michigan, which the State is
currently refusing to properly regulate.  The amended lawsuit filed in
federal district court for western Michigan also states a claim under the
Michigan Environmental Protection Act against the State and DEQ Director
Russell Harding for pollution, impairment and destruction of the state's
environment based on their failure to enforce the law.

Sierra Club's lawsuit against River Ridge Farms, filed in April, cites more
than fifteen years of contamination of the Grand River and its tributaries
with manure, milking house wastes and other agricultural pollutants from
River Ridge Farms' dairy and beef facilities. Just three weeks ago another
major discharge of liquefied manure from a breach in a waste lagoon occurred
at a River Ridge Farms facility.  According to Sierra Club's amended
complaint filed today, the State's
obstruction of the permitting process for River Ridge Farms requires the
state's inclusion as a defendant in the lawsuit in order to allow the court
to resolve the issues.

"River Ridge Farms has broken the law, threatening Michigan's water quality
and public health, and should be held accountable," said Aaron Isherwood,
Sierra Club staff attorney.  "The real threat to public health and water
quality, however, is the State of Michigan.  Governor Engler and Director
Harding have sat on their hands while animal factories continue to pollute.
Engler and Harding are violating the Clean Water Act across the board by
refusing to require permits for Michigan animal factories and by failing to
enforce violations by animal  factories."

The Sierra Club's lawsuit is one of several steps the grassroots
environmental organization is pursuing to compel the State of Michigan to
enforce the Clean Water Act against the massive and growing public health
threat posed by animal factories in Michigan. In addition to two citizen's
suits filed under the Clean Water Act (against Walnutdale Farms in Allegan
County and River Ridge Farms), the statewide Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
filed a petition to the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 on behalf
of itself, two other environmental organizations and two individuals seeking
removal of the state's delegation under the Clean Water Act based on its
failure to comply with the law.  The state is presently defying the federal
government's clear direction in interim responses to this petition that
require the state to process permits and otherwise enforce the law.

Anne Woiwode, Staff Director of the Mackinac Chapter, said, "the Engler
Administration has charted a course regarding animal factories and water
pollution that seems destined for disaster. The Sierra Club is not willing
to wait until people are dying from water contamination from animal
factories in Michigan to demand that the state comply with and enforce with
the law." Permitting under the Clean Water Act requires prior review and
approval of designs and operating plans by environmental agencies and the
public, as well as periodic updating of requirements for technologies used
and swift enforcement against violations.  Under the state's current
program, environmental agency officials usually don't learn of the existence
of an animal factory until after neighbors file complaints or a major spill

The Sierra Club's amended complaint also cites violations of the Michigan
Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) by the state because Director Harding
and MDEQ are refusing to obey federal and state standards and requirements
under the Clean Water Act.  The Sierra Club contends that this conduct is
resulting in pollution, impairment and destruction of Michigan's natural
resources, and calls on the court to appoint a Special Master under the
state law to step in and make recommendations for preventing further
discharges and restoring the damaged waterways.

Sierra Club Staff Attorney Aaron Isherwood of San Francisco, CA, and
Attorney Chris Bzdok of Olson, Noonan & Bzdok in Traverse City represent
Sierra Club in the litigation.  Copies of the amended complaint are
available at the website: michigan.sierraclub.org/riverridge

                      #  #  #  #  #  #  #

The Mackinac Chapter of the Sierra Club is the statewide chapter in
Michigan, with more than 18,000 members. Sierra Club's national Clean Water
Campaign is working to assure proper regulation of animal factories
nationwide.  For more details about the Sierra Club's efforts to clean up
water pollution from animal factories in Michigan, contact the Mackinac
Chapter office.

            River Ridge Farms:
          Fifteen Years of Polluting Michigan's Waters

     River Ridge Farms, owned by Edward J. Hanenburg and headquartered near
Coopersville in Ottawa County, includes two animal factories and numerous
smaller facilities.  The River Ridge Dairy CAFO and the River Ridge Main
CAFO have each operated with more than 1000 animal units (700 dairy cows or
1000 beef cattle) for many years, and otherwise meet the definition of
concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) under both state and federal

     In 1985 and 1986, the dairy CAFO, located above the floodplain of the
Grand River, discharged manure on six separate occasions into an unnamed
tributary of the Grand River.  A one million gallon manure spill in 1986
caused a major fish kill.  State enforcement led to a "consent order" under
which Mr. Hanenburg agreed to pay a small fine.

     In 1990, the first of two major incidents involving improper disposal
of potato wastes occurred.  Potato wastes were dumped onto a field causing
foul odors and runoff into a nearby creek.  Three years later, River Ridge
was cited for the run off of potato wastes into a drain.  In attempting to
cleanup the dumped potato wastes, River Ridge ignored warnings from state
officials and sent heavy equipment into a sensitive wetland area.

     In 1991 multiple separate violations involving spreading of manure
wastes onto fields resulted in contamination of ditches running into the
Grand River and turned Crockery Creek gray and fetid as it crossed a
neighbor's property.

     In 1992, River Ridge installed a drain which violated environmental
requirements, and that drain siphoned runoff from the operation's fields.
In 1993, misapplication of manure onto fields led to a serious discharge
into a tributary of Deer Creek.

     After years of violations, in 1995 River Ridge Farms adopted a Waste
Management Plan for animal wastes, however violations have not stopped.   In
early February 2000 manure spread from River Ridge CAFOs onto a frozen farm
field north of Coopersville High School led to a large amount of manure
running off into tributaries of Deer Creek.  The Creek was turned a greenish
black color and smelled of manure, while the tributaries became turbid as a
result of the manure.

     Two weeks later, River Ridge discharged manure again from a different
Coopersville field that had been spread with manure from the animal
factories.  Less than two weeks later, manure was spread on fields near the
main CAFO in violation of the setbacks required from wetlands.  Ignoring the
150 foot buffer, manure was spread within eight feet of a wetland that feeds
into the Grand River.  The manure flowed through the wetlands, turning a
drain downstream brown with

     In September 2000, following Sierra Club's notification to Mr.
Hanenburg and River Ridge Farms of their intent to bring a citizens suit
under the Clean Water Act for these violations, Mr. Hanenburg signed a
Consent Judgment with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality,
committing to fix the pollution problems.  However by the middle of January
additional violations of the Clean Water Act were being racked up by River
Ridge Farms.

     Around January 15, 2001, a discharge of wastes through runoffs from the
dairy CAFO entered a tributary of the Grand River.  A day later, additional
discharges from at least four locations at the dairy CAFO entered US waters.
During the final days of January, discharges into waterways occurred at both
the dairy CAFO and the main CAFO, with both sets of discharges ultimately
entering the Grand River.

     In May 2001 polluted stormwater overflowed a temporary dike built to
contain wastes, again causing a discharge into tributaries of the Grand

     On June 19th, in an event that is still under investigation by state
and federal environmental agencies, a manure lagoon at one of the satellite
facilities that holds waste from the CAFOs until it can be spread, spewed
out half of its waste overnight, evidently as a result of a construction
problem with the lagoon that led to catastrophic failure.

                          # # # # # #
prepared by Sierra Club July 9, 2001

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