By Diane Krizek
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued a press release on June 15 announcing issuance of a Class IB National Pollution Discharge Elimination System operating permit to Valley Oaks Steak Company LLC for its concentrated animal feeding operation or CAFO.
Valley Oaks Steak Company LLC operates an animal feeding operation located at 1921 W. 50 Highway, Lone Jack in Johnson County which was formerly classified as a Class II animal feeding operation because it had fewer than 999 cow.
The Class IB NPDES permit allows the company to house up to 6,999 beef cattle on 400 acres which makes it subject to CAFO regulations and permit requirements.
DNR staff report that they reviewed the application for completeness and compliance with the Missouri Clean Water Law and the Missouri Clean Water Commission regulations.
In “CAFO Moves to Johnson County” March 3, the Tribune reported that Powell Gardens and the Lone Jack community were blindsided by notice of a CAFO and would not have known had it not been for the permit process requiring notification of property owners within 3000 feet.
In hopes to pressure the MoDNR to deny Valley Oak’s permit application, Powell Gardens marshaled their membership base to protest and engaged the media. Lone Jack Neighbors for Responsible Agriculture was organized to collectively fight to protect their property rights against issues of setback, water quality, waste management and disposal and toxic fumes. Although not legally obliged to do so, the Department held a public hearing “to understand public concerns” at the Warrensburg Community Center on April 3 where 600 showed up according to the Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal.
On the same day of its press release, MoDNR published its response to public concerns on its website, in addition to a site map of Valley Oaks and the permit. (URL https://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/cafo/)
The MoDNR maintains that its permit requirements meet all federal regulations and state statutes and regulations “developed specifically for design, construction, and operation of CAFO.” The department states the regulations are for “the protection of surface and groundwater and have taken environmental studies into consideration. The no-discharge requirement is the most restrictive effluent limitation that can be required of a permitted facility and is protective of water quality.”
CAFO operations require large feedlot buildings where cattle are confined to fatten up prior to slaughter. Locals raised concerns about the amount of water required to sanitize the facility. According MoDNR, the Missouri Clean Water Law does not establish the water source requirements of a CAFO “which it can use at its discretion.” The Department’s advice is to contact the water company whenever low water pressure is experienced which has reportedly already occurred.
A no-discharge permit requires that waste water be contained according to specific design regulations and cannot be discharged for any reason into natural waterways. “The manure cannot be exposed to precipitation or storm-water without runoff containment prior to its use as a fertilizer.” Yet locals have concerns that the waste water containment may not be adequate after several days of heavy rainfall.
MoDNR maintains that the proposed CAFO meets the regulatory setback distances to streams, ponds, wetlands, and wells. It denied responsibility for compliance with local ordinances which do “not fall within the scope of its permit action and Missouri Clean Water Law.”
Concerns for groundwater levels were met with a statement that Missouri is a riparian water rights state and consequently has no statutes or regulations for groundwater usage. Landowners have a right to reasonable use of their water resources and CAFOs are not exempt from state regulations for well construction.
Locals questioned MoDNR’s claim that Valley Oaks complied with the minimum 2,000 ft buffer distance for a Class IB CAFO which is the only odor or air pollution regulation that falls within the scope of the permit action. Valley Oaks was required to reevaluate the buffer distance to occupied residences and discovered one confinement building did not comply. Valley Oaks proposed physically cutting and removing the portion of the confinement building that does not meet the buffer distance.
The press release advises that parties adversely affected or aggrieved by the department’s decision to approve the Class IB NPDES permit request may appeal to the Administrative Hearing Commission by filing a written petition within 30 days from issuance or July 16. Administrative Hearing Commission website http://ahc.mo.gov.