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E-M:/ DEQ issues badly flawed CAFO Permit for proposed Liberty Dairy CAFO in Orleans

In a move that is just stunning, the DEQ has issued an individual NPDES permit to Timothy den Dulk for the proposed Liberty dairy CAFO in Orleans, in Ionia County.  This is particularly disturbing because of the federal Second Circuit of the United State Court of Appeals decision (Waterkeepers vs. USEPA)which was handed down on February 28th, shortly after the comment period on this application closed.  The decision made it extremely clear that there is an obligation under the Clean Water Act to assure that the agency overseeing the permit and the members of the public be able to review the Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) for the CAFO, which is in fact virtually the entire guts of the permit, in the course of the permitting process.  Sierra Club has an ongoing challenge to the Michigan General NPDES Permit for New, Large CAFOs based on exactly this concern, and provided the DEQ with the Court of Appeals decision along with a request that they not approve this permit or any other until the implications of this court ruling were fully understood for Michigan.  We have received no response from DEQ on that request.


While the DEQ apparently has made a minor modification in the issued permit saying that now Mr. den Dulk’s operation will be required to submit the complete CNMP to the DEQ prior to population of the facility with animals, and that the CNMP will be made available to the public, the permit has already been issued so this will do nothing to promote the supposed purpose of NPDES permitting, which is to prevent and eliminate contamination of our waterways.  In fact, under the permit issued for Mr. den Dulk’s previously permitted facility, Hartford Dairy CAFO, the operation was required to file an Executive Summary of their CNMP prior to population of the facility with animals, which translated into this document being FAXED to the DEQ at 4:30 in the afternoon of the day the operation moved the first 200 cows onsite. 


Enviro-Mich readers will recall the enumeration of the comments made by an extremely well informed crowd at the hearing held on this permit in February (this message can be found in the Enviro-Mich archives at February 23rd - http://www.great-lakes.net/lists/enviro-mich/2005-02/index.html ).  The responsiveness summary prepared by DEQ reads like a set of excuses for not taking action to protect the people of Orleans from a variety of environmental insults this CAFO can be expected to cause. For whatever reason, there responsiveness summary is not listed on the DEQ’s NPDES Permits website – the permit application had been listed, but is now gone, and although in the past responsiveness summaries and issued permits have been posted, this one is not.  I would urge those with concerns about ANY water quality to read through this disturbing document (I only have a fax of it) because if these kinds of answers are applied to other types of water quality permitting, as one Orleans resident told me, they might as well eliminate the permitting division and just rubber stamp applications. Fundamentally the message is that the operator has promised they won’t pollute, and the DEQ believes them regardless of the documentation of how vulnerable this site it, and regardless of the fact that the Hartford Dairy CAFO had its first violation of Clean Water Act standards within 2 ½ months of beginning operations.  


The site for this den Dulk CAFO is apparently already being prepared – in fact, earth moving began on March 28th according to the neighbors.  It is unclear from correspondence from MDA whether in fact the facility has received an Approval to Construct under the Right to Farm siting GAAMPs, which would be required in order to give this operation immunity from nuisance lawsuits.  Apparently no opportunity for a public hearing on the siting has yet occurred, even though that is to be offered to the local unit of government, whose members have spoken out in opposition to this facility.


Another note on this whole issue:  After the Supervisor from Hartford Township and another resident came to testify at the hearing to let the people of Orleans know how awful their experience with the den Dulk dairy CAFO in their community has been, an attorney for the CAFO showed up at the Township Board meeting and reportedly told them they could not appoint a water monitor for the Township because this was the DEQ’s responsibility, and chastised the Supervisor for going to the hearing in Orleans on the other facility.  A week later the Supervisor and other resident were sent letters by an attorney for den Dulk asserting that they has made false statements at the hearing and demanding they retract their comments.  This kind of SLAPP action is clearly aiming at intimidating people out of the right to exercise their free speech.


Anne Woiwode



Anne Woiwode, Director, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter

109 East Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906

517-484-2372, fax 517-484-3108  www.michigan.sierraclub.org