State regulators have filed criminal contempt of court charges against Oregon mega-dairy owner Greg te Velde, hoping to quickly close the dairy and stop it from continually violating environmental regulations.
The state has asked a judge to issue remedial sanctions that would effectively shut down the dairy, called Lost Valley Farm, within 60 days. A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 29 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Just three weeks ago, the state revoked the dairy’s wastewater permit, which also would shut it down. But te Velde has 60 days to appeal the revocation, then another 60 days, or until Oct. 25, to comply. If he appeals, the deadline would be further extended.
In its motion for a contempt order, the state warned of a looming environmental disaster if his manure lagoons aren’t cleaned and fixed before fall brings rain and wind.
“Te Velde has continued to mismanage his dairy in a way that threatens Oregonians with irreparable injury from the manure waste his cattle create,” the Oregon Department of Justice wrote. “There is serious risk that if the violations are not brought under control during the summer of 2018 that there will be such serious quantities of escaping wastewater that the groundwater will be contaminated.”
Reached on his mobile phone Tuesday, te Velde declined to comment.
Lost Valley Farm opened near Boardman in April 2017 to supply milk to a nearby Tillamook Cheese factory. The dairy has roughly 8,750 milk and dry cows and 3,380 heifers, according to a listing in May.
Tillamook County Creamery Association spokeswoman Tori Harms did not respond to an interview request Tuesday.
The dairy immediately began violating its wastewater permit, which details how manure must be handled and disposed of, regulators say.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture sued to effectively shut down the dairy in February 2018, saying it was endangering nearby drinking water wells by repeatedly allowing liquid manure and wastewater to overflow storage lagoons.
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The dairy is in the environmentally sensitive Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area, which already has nitrate levels that exceed state drinking water standards.
In March, the state agreed to a stipulated judgment that allowed the dairy to continue operating in a limited capacity until it could prove that its wastewater treatment system was fully functional.
Te Velde did not comply with any of the provisions of that agreement, the state says in the new legal filings. Those provisions included limiting wastewater production to 65,000 gallons per day; removing 75 acre feet, or about 24.4 million gallons, of wastewater from the lagoon; and reporting any system failures within 24 hours.
Instead, manure spills have continued at an even greater pace.
And regulators have discovered that te Velde has not followed any of the permit requirements governing how the wastewater should be applied as fertilizer to nearby fields.
That means he could be contaminating groundwater not just with nitrates but with organisms that could cause E. coli, salmonellosis, shigellosis, typhoid, cholera, bacterial dysentery, viral hepatitis and gastroenteritis, the state’s lawyers say.
“Each day brings a greater risk that the groundwater will be polluted,” the state wrote.
Documents filed with the contempt request reveal new details of the depth of the problems at the dairy:
- Te Velde had less than a third of the land available for wastewater application as he told regulators, meaning wastewater is being applied at a much higher rate than allowed. Of the 5,200 acres he was supposed have, 2,369 were leased to Boardman Tree Farm or not yet cleared for farming. He leased another 1,320 acres to a potato farmer.
- Te Velde never installed required piping, pumps and other equipment to deliver wastewater to fields. Instead, he used leaky soft hoses that resulted in more spills. And, he never installed equipment required to measure how much wastewater the land could absorb. ODA determined that every land application made at the dairy between July 5, 2017 and December 21, 2017 was in violation of crop monitoring regulations.
- Te Velde rented out concrete pads meant for manure or feed storage to a potato farmer for potato pulp storage, which also leaked liquid into the ground.
- Te Velde never installed required lagoon measuring devices, and constantly overfilled the lagoons. Regulators documented at least 32 violations of waste storage regulations between June 28, 2017 and May 9, 2018. In many cases, waste overtopped the storage lagoons, and at least once it entered air vents meant to allow gases to escape from underneath the liners. This provided a direct route to soil under the lagoon. Several of the violations resulted in significant discharges of liquid wastewater.
So far, ODA does not have evidence that groundwater or surface water have been contaminated, spokeswoman Andrea Cantu-Schomus said.
To date, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has conducted more than 50 inspections at Lost Valley Farm, and continues to visit weekly, at taxpayer expense.
“ODA remains committed to weekly monitoring ensuring human health and protection of the environment,” Cantu-Schomus said.