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E-M:/ Dairy CAFO proposal by den Dulk in Ionia -- the Wal-Marts of Manure?



Public notice of a new proposed dairy CAFO that would have up to 3821 Animal Units (equivalent of urine and feces for more than 60,000 people) right next to the village of Orleans in Ionia County has been posted on the DEQ website.  The proposed Liberty Dairy CAFO application was submitted by at least three of the same folks who built the Hartford/Red Arrow Dairy CAFO in Hartford (Van Buren County) earlier this year (Timothy C. den Dulk, Rick Blauw and Rudolf Dejong). Based on my recollection of the testimony at the hearing on the Hartford/Red Arrow Dairy hearing, these same folks have built and run at least two other large dairy CAFOs in Michigan already, one of which is near Coopersville called the den Dulk Dairy CAFO.  Timothy den Dulk apparently is also involved in extensive development of CAFOs in other states.  Below is a clip from a press release put out by the Bion Environmental Technologies, Inc in July 2002 regarding a joint venture with Mr. den Dulk:


Timothy C. den Dulk owns and manages dairy farms in California, New Mexico, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana that milk approximately 30,000 cows. He also raises dairy heifers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota which, when combined with his milking cows, total to a herd size of almost 60,000 cows. Additionally, Mr. den Dulk farms row crops on approximately 20,000 acres in the above mentioned states as well as grapes, walnuts, peaches and almonds in California.


Mr. den Dulk was a Founder and past Director of Select Milk Producers, Inc., the nation’s 18th largest milk cooperative. He was a Founder and is currently Chairman of the Board of Continental Dairy Products, Inc., a rapidly growing marketing cooperative with members in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.


I entitled this message “the Wal-Marts of Manure?” because this newest proposal, coming just a few months after the permitting and start of operation of the Hartford/Red Arrow Dairy CAFO, and the apparently huge nature of the den Dulk operations call to mind the aggressive strategy of Wal-Mart in trying to get into as many communities as possible as quickly as possible.  There are several MAJOR differences, brought to you courtesy of the successful legislative and administrative lobbying campaigns of the Michigan Farm Bureau and the rest of the agri-business juggernaut in Michigan and nationwide. 


First, there will be no local control over this facility – if the land is zoned agricultural, it can be used to build a CAFO with no additional planning or zoning oversight by the local unit of government, thanks to the 1999 amendment to the Right to Farm Act promoted by the Michigan Dept of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau, and a large number of others in the ag business.


Second, as undesirable as Wal-Mart and its ilk are in their impact on communities and addition to sprawl, they don’t tend to put huge amounts of potentially deadly pollutants into the air and water of the area they are found in.  These pollution issues were well discussed in an excellent article in the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer by reporter Fran Henry, ( go to : http://www.cleveland.com/living/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/living/110155157262571.xml ).  In addition, Henry talked about the impacts of CAFOs on local communities in tax burden for maintenance of roads beat up by the enormous amount of truck traffic, which seem to far outstrip the impact of increased traffic from retail development.  A lawsuit brought by a road commission against a CAFO here in Michigan demonstrates that as well.


But there is more to this as well, assuming that the course of this proposed new operation might follow closely the steps that occurred in the set up and operation of its sibling CAFO near Hartford.  A couple of lowlights from that experience follow:


MDA SITING AND ODOR GAAMPS PROCEDURE NOT FOLLOWED: Local community members in the vicinity of the Hartford/Red Arrow proposal relied heavily on the clearly spelled out procedures and requirements in the Department of Agriculture’s Siting and Odor Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPS) to give them an opportunity to question the siting of this massive facility so close to so many people.  Since the village of Orleans is virtually adjacent to this proposed site, they should pay VERY close attention to this.  The Hartford proposal evidently began to go through the review by MDA in the fall of last year, and residents were awaiting the opportunity for a public hearing to be held to address what they viewed as severe flaws in the facility’s compliance with set backs, etc.  When the NPDES permit application was put out for public comment earlier this year, these same folks were quite confused the Hartford application made a claim (similar to the assertion in the Orleans proposal) that the proposed site had received MDA approval for the site based on GAAMPS.  Upon further inquiry, and AFTER the DEQ issued the permit for the Hartford/Red Arrow dairy CAFO, residents received a letter from the MDA that the applicants had NOT received MDA Siting GAAMPS approval.  However, despite the fact that the GAAMPS are very clear that the siting review and approval must be initiated PRIOR to the facility being constructed, presumably to allow for modifications if the proposed site is in violation, MDA gave retroactive approval after the facility was almost entirely constructed, and the locals were never given a chance to request the review by the Agriculture Commission that is provided for appeals by neighbors of the MDA decisions.  While the process is voluntary, it has been touted as the rationale for not having the DEQ provide any review of the siting of these operations – and when a claim is made that the MDA provided approval, and it is not reviewed or confirmed by DEQ, there is NO way to get a multiple million dollar facility to be moved easily at that point.  The Hartford/Red Arrow facility was about half built before the DEQ even held its hearing on the NPDES permit application – again suggesting a great arrogance that this facility would be authorized, and, one might reasonably assume, contributing to MDA retroactively approving the Siting GAAMPs. At first blush, it appears the Orleans site is likely to be much LESS in compliance with reasonable siting requirements than even the Hartford/Red Arrow CAFO, but at the very least the applicant must be required to produce clear documentation of the completion of the process, or MDA should independently verify the claim that the siting approval has been obtained.


ANIMALS MOVED IN SAME DAY THE DEQ WAS FAXED EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE CNMP: While Sierra Club believes the state’s permitting for CAFOs to be quite flawed, it does require that a facility provide the Executive Summary of the Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) with details about overall design and management to be provided BEFORE the facility is populated with animals.  At 4:30 p.m. on August 4, 2004, the very day the Hartford/Red Arrow moved the first approx 200 dairy cows into the facility, the Executive Summary of the CNMP was faxed to the DEQ.  We have argued that the only way to actually give a thorough review for the permitting process is for the full CNMP to be provided to the public, which will never happen under the current permit, but at very least the DEQ ought to have at least the opportunity to look for major flaws in the facility before it begins operation.  The DEQ has contended they do not have the expertise to review CNMPs – we and others in the public are willing to hire experts to do that review if we can simply be allowed to see the plans before the CAFO begins to produce waste, but that is not going to happen here.


LORD OF THE FLIES: Within a handful of weeks of those first cows moving onto the Hartford/Red Arrow CAFO, the neighboring homes and businesses were invaded by huge quantities of flies coming from the operation.  The walls and doors of all of these nearby buildings were covered with flies to the extent that it was impossible to go in or out of buildings without bringing in huge amounts of these public health threats.  Flies from operations like this are disease vectors as well as nuisances – they carry germs from the waste products that they have feasted on with them and deposit them on the people and food they land on.  In the case of the Hartford facility, a couple of the neighboring businesses process apples into cider and caramel apples, posing severe potential impacts on these businesses as a result of this new neighbor.


WATER QUALITY CONTAMINATION ALREADY:  In mid-October, barely 2½ months after starting operations, neighbors trained in water sampling took the first samples from a drain tile running onto a neighbor’s field off one of the fields that the Hartford/Red Arrow CAFO disposed of its animal wastes on and got readings well in excess of the state’s acceptable levels for E.coli.  The test results and a complaint were filed with the DEQ, which did its own tests on November 9.  The DEQ sample taken at the same location registered 47,000 units of E.coli bacteria per 100 ml, which 47 times the state’s maximum limit for E.coli.  Two additional tests at different sites on the operation also showed violations (14,000 units and 2,000 units).  Unfortunately, we are being told at this time that the DEQ will not take enforcement action against the Hartford/Red Arrow Dairy CAFO for these violations, but instead that the permit supposedly allows them 90 days to correct the violation.  (Our reading of the permit is that any discharge from a field tile that is in violation of the water quality standards is a violation of the Clean Water Act, AND that the facility must fix its CNMP within 90 days to avoid any similar discharges in the future.)  As virtually every CAFO that have violated the Clean Water Act in Michigan has shown, giving them slack to fix the problems themselves has been a recipe for continuous contamination of waterways.  The most stark example, of course, is in Lenawee and Hillsdale County were more than 115 Water Quality Violations have been given out by the DEQ, a number that falls far short of the actual number of violations but instead represents the diligent efforts of understaffed DEQ folks to investigate all the complaints.  However, despite so many verified violations and now three lawsuits by the state against facilities there, the contamination CONTINUES virtually unabated.  CAFOS were given special status under the state’s regulatory framework in part because of the claim that they were zero discharge operations – that myth has long been blown up, yet we look at one more operation asking to be treated as if they will not pollute the waters and air of another rural community, and the likelihood that they will get a permit on this fallacious assumption.


I want to be clear that I would never advocate a retail development over a true agricultural operation, but CAFOs are so far from agriculture any more that comparisons with a Wal-Mart proposal, or more accurately a factory or sewage treatment facility, are legit.  


The permit application was posted on the DEQ's NPDES Permit page on November 24th -- deadline for public comments is January 7th, meaning a significant amount of the comment period occurs during traditional holidays for many people.  Go to http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,1607,7-135-3313_3713-10463--,00.html and look for permit # MI0057643 Liberty Dairy CAFO for the public posting of the application, the draft permit, and related documents. This is an application for an individual CAFO NPDES permit, and the Sierra Club has brought a contested case against the General Permit that provides the broad guidance for the individual permit that would be sought here, as well as against the two first individual CAFO NPDES permits issued in the state: the above mentioned Hartford/Red Arrow Dairy CAFO and a second CAFO in Huron County call Z-Star dairy CAFO that is being built and operated by the operator of one of the facilities in Huron County that was just cited by EPA for violations (Zwemmer Dairy CAFO).


The site of this proposed dairy CAFO is the site that was previously being considered for a 2.5 million chicken egg laying facility and egg cracking operation, a proposal that was withdrawn about a year ago in part at least because of the extensive organizing and opposition that arose in the community. Having just stumbled across the notice I don’t know whether the local residents are even aware of the new proposal, which will raise many of the same concerns as the egg facility because it is apparently proposed to be built in the same spot.  Water quality concerns based on proximity to a county drain and a very high water table in this area were some of the greatest concerns raised during debate about the possible egg facility, and those clearly will be great concerns again.


I urge anyone who cares about water quality, air quality and quality of life in rural Michigan to carefully review this application, and submit your comments to the DEQ.  As much as anything, it is critical that the issues that the permit application FAILS to address be raised in comments to the DEQ.  With somewhere around 200 CAFOs in Michigan already, with at least 35 which have had DEQ verified discharges, of which only 25 have been brought under any form of a water quality permit, with litigation now by DEQ against three facilities which appears not to have stopped those operations from discharging contaminated waters, with air quality issues not only unaddressed but increasingly unlikely to be addressed with the Bush Administration continuing on, it is critical that people concerned about sustainable agriculture as well as pollution weigh in on the failures of the process so far in Michigan.  


In his introduction to his book “Crimes Against Nature” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., talks about “the factory-pork industry, which is one of the largest sources of air and water pollution in the United States.”  While most of the operations that have drawn attention so far in Michigan are dairy CAFOS, Kennedy’s analysis applies to CAFOs as a whole: “Industrial farms illegally dump millions of tons of untreated fecal and toxic waste onto the land and into the air and water.  Factory farms have contaminated hundreds of miles of waterways, put tens of thousands of family famers and fishermen out of work, killed billions of fish, sickened consumers, and subjected millions of animals to unspeakable cruelty.”  Ignorance of the impacts of the horrible industry would provide an excuse for inaction – in the face of huge and growing documentation of the devastation these facilities are causing throughout our agricultural communities in Michigan, it is time for all of us to face this looming disaster and demand that the state act to protect our rural and downstream communities from the unspeakable harm of factory farms.



Anne Woiwode, Director

Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter

109 East Grand River Avenue,  Lansing, MI  48906

ph: 517-484-2372 fx: 517-484-3108 e: anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org

website:  http://michigan.sierraclub.org


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John Dilulio, former head of President Bush's faith based initiative