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Arguments to begin on dairy feedlot near Thief River Falls

Pennington County residents and officials will argue today that Excel Dairy, a 1,500-head dairy feedlot near Thief River Falls, should keep its doors closed for good.

They'll testify at a meeting of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board, which begins at 9 a.m. in St. Paul.

County Extension Agent Howard Person, who helped to write Pennington County's animal feedlot ordinance, will testify on behalf of the county commission.

The Pennington County Commission recently resolved that the MPCA not only should revoke the feedlot's permit, but that the permit should not be re-issued.

The county's feedlot ordinance does not apply to Excel because the dairy was operating before the law was adopted. However, the county ordinance would apply if the dairy would expand.

The Minnesota Department of Health has said it does not have the power to shut down the dairy, even though it did declare Excel Dairy a public health hazard. According to a March report by the health department and the toxic substances agency, there were "hundreds of exceedances of Minnesota ambient air quality standards."

The facility, which closed in late winter, stores manure in a series of three clay-lined basins. The manure is moved from basin to basin as it breaks down over time, much like a system of waste-water lagoons.

Nearby residents have said the bad odors from the farm are a health hazard that has driven them from their homes at times with headaches and other maladies.

The MPCA has said the new permit would require the first basin to be sealed with a layer of straw; the second basin would have an impermeable synthetic seal and allow for the collection and flaring of gases; and the third basin would have a permeable seal, letting some gases escape.

The current permit requires a seal on the first basin, but not the second and third.

Company officials have said the dairy closed this winter to make changes in order to comply with MPCA regulations. The cows were sent to other dairy farms owned by the same South Dakota consortium that owns Excel.

Jeff Brouse, who lives about a half-mile from the dairy, will argue that the dairy should not get a second chance because it never adhered to the original permit.

The health department, along with the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, came to the conclusion after monitoring air quality inside and outside of several homes, including Brouse's.

Brouse said sensors found hydrogen sulfide concentrations that were "way over the limit," the limit being the concentrations allowable within the dairy's property line. His home, he said, is half a mile away.

Even the sensor inside his home was over the limit, he said.

The health department report said that repeated exposure to hydrogen sulfide at the level found near the feedlot could cause "persistent eye and throat irritation, headache and nausea." Also, the smell causes stress, which could exacerbate diseases and other health problems.

The Excel Dairy item is last on the MPCA Citizens Board meeting agenda. A Web cast of the meeting may be accessed at: