Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff is recommending the Iowa Attorney General take enforcement action against the developer of a 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation near Monona after repeated violations.
The DNR proposed in March a $10,000 fine to settle the case, but a violation earlier this month took that deal off the table.
“Due to the ongoing nature of the violations which resulted in an illegal discharge to a water of the state on or about May 4, 2018, the department intends to seek judicial enforcement of the matter,” DNR attorney Carrie Schoenebaum wrote May 23 to Eldon McAfee, attorney for Walz Energy.
While $10,000 is the maximum penalty the DNR can assess for violations, the Iowa Attorney General can pursue penalties of up to $5,000 per day, per violation for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit holders.
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.
In April 2017, the DNR told Walz Energy a stormwater NPDES permit would be required because Bloody Run is designated an Outstanding Iowa Water.
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.
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“Department staff observed much of the site had exposed soils, was wet, muddy and had pooled water,” a Feb. 28 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.
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.
The DNR has not yet completed a report about the May 4 violation.
The agency will draft a litigation report to present in July to the Environmental Protection Commission, which then will vote on whether to refer the Walz Energy case to the attorney general, Schoenebaum said.
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