Government

Feedlot's runoff violations near Monona stay with Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Some wanted case moved to attorney general, higher fines

Iowa DNR logo
Iowa DNR logo

DES MOINES — The Iowa Environmental Commission decided Tuesday violations by a northeast Iowa cattle feedlot and biogas facility should be handled by the Department of Natural Resources rather than the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which could have pursued bigger fines.

A motion by Commissioner Rebecca Guinn to refer enforcement action against Walz Energy to the Iowa Attorney General died without a second from the four other commission members. This is despite concerns from three Eastern Iowans who spoke at the meeting.

“Other businesses and industries get stormwater permits and implement appropriate controls,” said Pam Mackey Taylor, of Marion, acting director of the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter. “Walz Energy has showed they are willing to thread the needle in any way they can. It is time for you to show them they need to comply.”

Northeast Iowa residents have been concerned since early 2017 about the proposed 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas facility near Monona 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 — for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System 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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The discharge is significant because sediment released into trout habitat can fill in streambottom niches where fish lay their eggs.

“Sediment reduces reproduction of desirable species,” DNR Attorney Carrie Schoenebaum said. “In turn, it allows less-desirable species to arise.”

The DNR in March proposed a $10,000 fine to settle the case, but a May 4 violation took that deal off the table. DNR officials documented stormwater and sediment seeping through an underground tile line into a tributary of Bloody Run, officials said.

The DNR decided in May to seek judicial enforcement by the Iowa Attorney General, which can pursue penalties of up to $5,000 per day, per violation, for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit holders.

The DNR’s maximum penalty is $10,000.

Walz representatives who appeared before the commission Tuesday pledged reform.

“We’re not here to say no violations have occurred,” said Eldon McAfee, a Des Moines attorney representing Walz Energy. “They have occurred. We regret those violations.”

Jon Haman, chief operating officer for Walz, said they put down some cornstalks over the winter and tried to plant grass seed to stabilize the construction zone, but neither effort was successful.

Walz has built a large retention basin that Haman said is large enough to prevent future runoff from leaving the site, he said.

The company is planning a $30 million facility that converts manure and food waste into natural gas. Haman said the facility will be up and running by the end of the year.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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