The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has proposed a $10,000 fine for the developer of a 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation near Monona after stormwater discharge into a popular trout-fishing stream and other violations.
“Walz Energy LLC has engaged in an illegal discharge to a water of the state, violated its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permit and its wastewater construction permit,” states a Feb. 22 letter DNR attorney Carrie Schoenenbaum sent to Eldon McAfee, attorney for Walz Energy.
“These are violations the DNR takes very seriously,” Schoenenbaum wrote.
Northeast Iowa residents have been concerned since early 2017 about the proposed feedlot and biogas facility because of its proximity to Bloody Run Creek and because the site has karst topography, which is porous and allows pollutants to seep into groundwater, the Clayton County Register reported.
Last April, the DNR told Walz Energy a stormwater NPDES permit would be required because nearby Bloody Run Creek is designated an Outstanding Iowa Water, the DNR reported in an administrative consent order Schoenenbaum sent Walz Energy last month. By signing the deal or negotiating other terms, Walz can avoid further state enforcement that could include criminal prosecution, Schoenenbaum said in the letter.
As the permit was pending, DNR investigators arrived at the facility Oct. 11 to find the creek downstream of the construction site was murky and brown, the DNR reported. Measurements showed total suspended solids were 20 times those in tests upstream and turbidity, or clarity, of the water downstream was 500 times worse than the upstream test site.
“Department staff observed much of the site had exposed soils, was wet, muddy and had pooled water,” the consent order states.
The DNR issued Walz Energy a notice of violation Oct. 24 for the discharge. The agency issued a second violation Nov. 19, after investigators learned Walz had started construction on its wastewater anaerobic lagoon before obtaining a NPDES permit.
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Walz Energy got its permit Jan. 12, but when DNR officials visited Jan. 25 they found the construction site had not been mulched to protect from erosion, the consent order states. A third violation notice was issued Feb. 21.
Jon Haman, chief operating officer for Walz Energy, told The Gazette Thursday the violations noted by the DNR all have been fixed. He plans to meet with DNR officials to talk about the proposed consent order.
“I think our main goal is to make sure they fully understand what happened,” Haman told The Gazette Thursday.
Haman does not think there is risk of future contamination at the facility, expected to be in operation this summer. Cattle manure in aboveground concrete pits below the animal confinements will go to a transfer station before it’s mixed with food waste and pumped to digesters, he said.
A 39-million gallon lagoon for the digestate produced after natural gas production is lined with clay and plastic, he said.
“There is karst in that area, but not where we put the lagoon,” he said.
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