The main floor of the large auditorium at Lake Region State College was only approximately half full at Wednesday afternoon’s informational meeting with members of the North Dakota Department of Health about an Animal Feeding Operation proposed 10 miles west of the city of Devils Lake on the shores of the lake itself.

The main floor of the large auditorium at Lake Region State College was only approximately half full at Wednesday afternoon’s informational meeting with members of the North Dakota Department of Health about an Animal Feeding Operation proposed 10 miles west of the city of Devils Lake on the shores of the lake itself.

Karl Rockeman and Marty Haroldson started off Wednesday’s meeting explaining that the purpose of the gathering was to provide information and to answer questions from the audience.
Haraldson narrated a half-hour Powerpoint presentation outlining the proposal and the process of reviewing the submitted information.

Then Rockeman took over toward the end of the presentation and explained that each person would be allowed to ask two questions until everyone had their chance, then they would open it up to further questions. Microphones were provided on either side of the auditorium and volunteers made sure to get them to the speakers so questions could be heard by everyone.
He also pointed out that this was a time for questions and answers, the time for comments and opinions would be after the permit was granted and then the public would have 30 days in which to comment. He said they would be back to Devils Lake for a public hearing at that time, if a permit is approved. That’s how the process works.

One of the first questions that was asked concerned dead animal composting and how those remains and fluids would be handled.

Rockeman responded that there would be a procedure for dealing with the inevitable deaths that happen in any operation like this. The Grand Prairie Agriculture proposal included a three-sided barn where decomposition and composting would take place.

Questions went on for over an hour and a half, some met with applause and some responses were met with groans from many in the audience.

Mary Senger said she lives near three potential sites of waste dumping and asked “How are you going to stop this pig sh_t when everything flows into the lake?”
She took issue with Rockeman using the term “nutrient management” and asked that they call it what it really is, “sh_t.”

Jeff Kenner, who also lives near the proposed site, asked about testing the water quality of the lake and sloughs nearby.

Another person suggested a bonding process that could be imposed in the event of a spill or pollution damaging the lake.

Rockeman said that there was no requirement for these type of facilities to put up a bond for clean-up or pollution mitigation.

Doug Yankton from the Spirit Lake Nation was eloquent in his statement about the potential damage this operation might do to the sovereign nation of Spirit Lake that derives its drinking water from Devils Lake.

Kristen Nelsen, flood plain manager, brought up the elevation of the lake and the proposed elevation of the holding pit for the hog excrement planned for beneath the barns.

Tammy Tollefson asked for clarification of an AFO and a CAFO and asked about how many actual animals will be held in the facility, not just “animal units.”

Janelle Engstrom asked why they were here representing Grand Prairie Agriculture and not representing the people of North Dakota. She also asked “how many permits have you ever turned down?” and Rockeman could only recall one permit that wasn’t granted.

Arne Berg had some questions about whether they considered the elevation of the lake, the ground water and how quickly levels can rise in this closed basin.

Several people made good and valid points. When everything was said and done, however, Rockeman pointed out that if the application for the proposed Animal Feeding Operation meets all the state’s requirements for building, they will approve the application.
It is not a done deal, yet, however, because they are still wading through the 378 pages of supporting documentation that accompanied the four-page application received on June 30 from the entity known as Grand Prairie Agriculture, LLP.

Rockeman attempted to reassure the crowd that in the early days of operation his department and others that are charged with regulatory oversight would monitor them closely to make sure they were complying with the rules.

A decision is pending from the North Dakota Supreme Court regarding a similar animal operation in Buffalo, ND. How the court rules could affect how this permit is scrutinized.

Rockeman said one of three things will happen: Either the permit will be issued, or it will be issued with modifications or it will be denied.

Whatever happens, the citizens of the Lake Region who are, yes, on both sides of the issue, will be very interested in the outcome, will be monitoring the situation all along the way and holding the authorities accountable, as well.