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Court rules Thief River Falls dairy must clean ponds by June 15

THIEF RIVER FALLS -- A Marshall County District Court Judge on Friday signed a court order requiring the company that owns a rural Thief River Falls dairy to have all manure cleaned from its holding ponds by June 15.

District Judge Donald Aandal made the ruling in a civil case filed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency against The Dairy Dozen, which operates Excel Dairy.

The dairy has been closed since early in 2009 after the Minnesota Department of Health determined it was violating state air quality laws.

Manure basins at the mega dairy, which is licensed for 1,544 animal units, emit hydrogen sulfide. State air quality laws limit the emissions to below 30 parts per billion.

Hydrogen sulfide can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting and weakness, according to the state Health Department.

About 40 people live within one mile of the dairy.

The MPCA Citizens Advisory Board revoked the dairy's operating permit in April and then issued a one-year temporary permit on the condition that operators comply with regulations.

The facility 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.

The new permit required 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 MPCA ordered that dairy cows cannot be returned to the mega-dairy until the facility is in compliance.

So far, the dairy has missed several MPCA-imposed deadlines.

In the meantime, the dairy has filed an application for a new operating permit, which would go into effect when the one-year temporary permit expires in April.

The dairy also is appealing the decision to set the original deadlines, claiming those deadlines were unrealistic.