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By Tom Meersman on StarTribune.com
Smelly farm faces tougher restrictions
A smelly northwestern Minnesota dairy faces tougher restrictions because uncontrolled gases from its manure basins have created a public health hazard for its neighbors.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency citizens' board on Tuesday voted 8 to 1 to revoke Excel Dairy's permit and reissue it immediately with requirements to remove the manure within the next few weeks and install covers on the basins.
The decision disappointed neighbors, the attorney general's office, and the Marshall County Board, all of whom wanted the 1,500-cow operation shut down permanently. They argued that the dairy just north of Thief River Falls violated state health standards hundreds of times last year, refused state orders to reduce the odors, and can no longer be trusted.
Board members sided with MPCA staff, who said revoking the old permit and issuing a new one would be the quickest way to get the cleanup accomplished. In a separate action, the agency and the attorney general have a pending lawsuit against the dairy in Marshall County District Court.
Several families within a mile or two of the dairy presented emotional testimony during the seven-hour meeting, saying the stench is intolerable and has driven them from their homes repeatedly during the past year. They said the smell is nothing like normal manure, and causes severe headaches, sore throats, dizziness and nausea, and has led to stress and depression.
Dairy officials said that emptying the manure basins quickly under the new permit is not feasible, and that covers and other improvements will be impossible to finance in the current market. An attorney for the dairy said he expects to challenge the board's decision in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
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