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Re: E-M:/ Sierra Club v. River Ridge Farms

While I fear that attempting to set the record straight and asking for honesty rather than biased propaganda may be a waste of my time, the Sierra Club's latest postings again demand a response.
First.  Absolutely NO "improvements" are being made to either the River Ridge nor White Acres facilities as a result of the Sierra Club's suit.  All of the improvements at River Ridge were completed many months ago as a direct result of Mr. Hanenburg's efforts to become MAEAP certified, and the enforcement actions brought by MDEQ and EPA.  The improvements at White Acres are the result of negotiations with U.S. EPA that were completed last January, several months before Sierra Club ever mentioned White Acres in connection with this suit.
Second.  Mr. Hanenburg did not purchase the River Ridge dairy until 1991.   Prior to that time Mr. Hanenburg had no involvement in the operations of the Grand River Dairy.  Although he was a financial investor in Agri-Investments, he had absolutely no involvement in any of the discharges prior to 1991.
Third.  When MDEW brought their enforcement action against Mr. Hanenburg in 2000, Mr. Hanenburg selected GVWRI to receive a portion of the settlement proceeds for work on Deer Creek, in Coopersville.  As part of the settlement with Sierra Club, Mr. Hanenburg had to convince Sierra Club to ALLOW half of the settlement to go to GVWRI (Mr. Isherwood, being from California, was completely unfamiliar with GVWRI's work, that is, until Mr. Hanenburg insisted that the settlement proceeds go to GVWRI).  For Sierra Club now to claim anything but that they agreed to Mr. Hanenburg's proposal, would be untrue.
Lastly.  Sierra Club is correct that the most recent Consent Judgment was a result of their Notice of Intent to Sue.  That is PRECISELY how the citizen suit provisions are SUPPOSED to work.  If the Sierra Club thinks that the MDEQ or any other environmental agency is failing to take appropriate enforcement action, the 60 day waiting period is designed to provide the agency with sufficient time to bring appropriate enforcement, which is what happened at River Ridge.  My question to Sierra Club is, what exactly (other than forcing an individual farmer to pay an additional $25,000, half of which goes to Sierra Club) does the Sierra Club settlement do for the environment, that Ed had not done (or agreed to do, in the case of White Acres) in the absence of the suit.  I challenge Mr. Isherwood and Ms. Woiwode to identify ONE meaningful improvement to River Ridge or White Acres or other environmental benefit resulting from their suit.  (The letter to EPA telling them how many turkeys are at White Acres hardly qualifies)
As I said in my first message, Sierra Club can rightly claim success in helping to force MDEQ to develop a permit program for CAFOs, and clearly their threatened and filed lawsuits were a part of that strategy.  What Sierra Club members should be asking is, once that "victory" was obtained, why place an additional financial burdens on farmers, which will not achieve any greater measure of environmental protection, but which may very likely cause certain farmers to say "enough is enough" and to cash in their farm to the highest bidder?
I look forward to Sierra Club's response.
>>> "Anne Woiwode" <anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org> 06/20/02 08:37AM >>>
Enviro-Mich message from "Anne Woiwode" <anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org>

The Sierra Club is proud of the agreement reached with River Ridge and
White Acres Farms and the owner of those facilities, Ed Hanenburg.  We are
very pleased that Mr. Hanenburg has agreed to make much-needed improvements
that will result in cleaner water for Michigan residents.

It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Hanenburg's lawyer, Ken Vermeullen,
would like you to think that the Sierra Club's suit had nothing to do with
the facility improvements being made at River Ridge and White Acres Farms.
We thought it might be helpful to provide some factual context so that
readers can make up their own minds.

According to state records, the pollution problems caused by Mr.
Hanenburg's facilities date back to 1985 when state officials verified four
separate discharges from Grand River Dairy (now the River Ridge Dairy).  In
1986, the dairy discharged over 1 million gallons of manure resulting in a
major fish kill in the Grand River.  Following that spill, the state
entered into a consent order under which Agri-Investments paid a small fine
for the fish kill of $4,846.38.

The consent order did not solve the problem.  The MDEQ verified numerous
discharges in 1991 and 1993.  According to MDEQ records, one of the spills
caused several miles of stream to become highly degraded, and another
caused a portion of the stream to turn charcoal black in color.  In 1996,
the MDEQ and River Ridge signed another consent order that still failed to
solve the problem.

In February 2000, state officials documented a manure spill from the River
Ridge Dairy to Deer Creek as a result of applying manure to a snow-covered
crop field.  State officials determined that River Ridge employees had not
updated their nutrient management plan to include the field in question,
nor had they followed GAAMPs.  In March 2000, state officials verified yet
another spill from the River Ridge dairy.

On July 25, 2000, the Sierra Club sent a 60-day notice letter to Mr.
Hanenburg warning him that the Sierra Club intended to file a Clean Water
Act suit against him if he failed to take appropriate steps to eliminate
discharges.  Approximately 60 days later, the MDEQ and Mr. Hanenburg signed
yet another consent order.  This latest consent order was directly linked to
Sierra Club's threat to sue, a clear effort by the state and Mr. Hanenburg
to derail our lawsuit through a claim that the state had diligently
the violations. However, like the previous orders, the consent order failed
numerous respects to adequately address the problems at Mr. Hanenburg's

We reviewed the consent judgment and determined that, like the prior orders,
it would be ineffective in eliminating the discharges.  That's why we felt
compelled to sue.
In addition, EPA documented discharges from River Ridge facilities after the
consent judgment was entered, confirming our fears that the state consent
judgment wouldn't solve the problem.

The EPA's involvement in this case was also in large part because of the
Sierra Club's efforts.  The Sierra Club and other groups petitioned EPA
to get involved because the state wasn't fulfilling its enforcement duties
under the federal Clean Water Act.  EPA agreed with us that the state's
enforcement was woefully inadequate, as documented in a report issued in
September 2000.  Our petition prompted EPA to investigate pollution problems
at MI CAFOs, kicking the review off with extensive records compiled through
investigations by Sierra Club and the Michigan Land Use Institute.  That
investigation led EPA to inspect River Ridge.  During the inspection, the
EPA documented numerous discharges and problems that the state's Consent
Judgment failed to address.  The EPA reached the same conclusion we did --
the state's Consent Judgment was inadequate -- and therefore issued its
own, far more comprehensive enforcement order against River Ridge.

Sierra Club appreciates the fact that Mr. Hanenburg agreed to the changes
that we and EPA believe are necessary to correct the practices and physical
designs of his facilities that have repeatedly caused severe pollution to
the Grand River and its tributaries.  Reaching a settlement agreement is
always preferred to asking a court to impose a solution, and in this case
it allowed us to assure that the penalty paid by Mr. Hanenburg would go to
water testing in the immediate vicinity of his animal factories, rather than
into state coffers (note: the entire agreement is still subject to the EPA's
review and endorsement.)

We are pleased that this settlement provides the Supplemental Environmental
Project funds to the Annis Water Resources Institute at GVSU, which had
been recommended to Sierra Club by several objective sources. Expanding
the capacity of a reputable group like AWRI to do water testing regarding
the pollution problems posed by Michigan's growing number of animal
and lax enforcement history is timely.

Aaron Isherwood, Staff Attorney, Sierra Club  and
Anne Woiwode, Director, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter

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