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



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Enviro-Mich message from "Anne Woiwode" <anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org>
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While not wishing to belabor this debate, nor bore Enviro-Mich readers, the
following comments from our attorney, Aaron Isherwood, will provide a
fitting endpoint for this debate- AW


The Sierra Club's goal is, and has always been, to get Mr. Hanenburg to
make improvements to his facilities to prevent future unlawful discharges
of manure to Michigan waterways.  We are very pleased to have achieved that
goal.

Readers should be aware that Ken Vermeullen is a paid lawyer for Ed
Hanenburg and, as such, a professional adversary of the Sierra Club.  While
we respect Ken's persistent defense of his client, his view is hardly an
objective one.   It is not surprising that Ken would like readers to
believe that the Sierra Club had nothing to do with the improvements his
client is making at the River Ridge and White Acres facilities.

For the Sierra Club, it is far more important that the improvements are
being made than that we get the credit. Nonethless, to set the record
straight, here are our responses to Ken's comments.

First, while Ken is correct that many of the improvements being made at
River Ridge and White Acres are the result of an EPA enforcement order
issued after the Sierra Club announced its intent to file suit, he fails to
mention that the Sierra Club is directly responsible for EPA's enforcement.
(In contrast, despite a 15-year history of violations, the MDEQ has done
nothing but issue slap-on-the-wrist consent orders that failed to prevent
unlawful discharges of manure to Michigan waterways.)  If the Sierra Club
had not brought the problems at River Ridge to EPA's attention, the agency
likely would not have gotten involved.

Second, Ken is correct that Mr. Hanenburg did not purchase the River Ridge
dairy until 1991.  He fails to point out, however, Mr. Hanenburg was a
parter in Agri Investments which owned the dairy in 1985 when it discharged
over 1 million gallons of manure to the Grand River and that Mr. Hanenburg
signed the consent order on behalf of Agri Investments for the resulting
fish kill.  As such, he bears some responsibility, if not complete
responsibility, for the pollution problems that occurred at the facility
prior to 1991.

Third, Ken is correct that Mr. Hanenburg made a contribution, in lieu of
civil penalties, to GVWRI for water testing as part of his consent decree
with the state.  Ken proposed to the Sierra Club that Mr. Hanenburg make a
similar contribution as part of his settlement with the Sierra Club.  We
investigated GVWRI and concluded that such a contribution would help the
Sierra Club's overall efforts to improve Michigan's water quality, and we
therefore accepted Ken's proposal.  The Sierra Club deserves credit for
forcing Mr. Hanenburg to make this additional contribution, which will
provide important information about water quality and, we hope, will help
to deter future violations.

Finally, we must respectfully disagree with Ken's statement that the
backroom dealings by the MDEQ and Mr. Hanenburg, which resulted in a
slap-on-the-wrist consent judgment which was intended (but ultimately
failed) to derail the Sierra Club's lawsuit, is "precisely how the citizen
suit provisions are supposed to work."  In similar circumstances, many
other state agencies have worked cooperatively with environmental groups
that issue 60-day notice letters.  The MDEQ chose instead to work with the
violator to try to derail the Sierra Club's enforcement.  As one federal
court put in when discussing an environmental citizen suit provision,
"Congress made clear that citizen groups are not to be treated as nuisances
or troublemakers, but rather as welcomed participants in the vindication of
environmental interests."  While many MDEQ staff have welcomed the Sierra
Club's efforts, the agency as a whole has treated us more as troublemakers,
even though, in theory at least, we are on the same side.








Aaron Isherwood
Staff Attorney
Sierra Club Environmental Law Program
85 Second Street, 2d Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441




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