By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
After six months of silence from the Wood County Commissioners, a couple activists were back before the board Tuesday asking for support.
The commissioners heard again from Vickie Askins about suspected manure violations from a large dairy, and from Mike Ferner about the need to protect Lake Erie.
The two made the same requests as last summer to the commissioners: Write a letter to the Ohio EPA about the dairy, and sign a resolution declaring the lake as impaired. Again, the commissioners asked a few questions, but took no action Tuesday on either request.
“This is happening in your county,” Askins said. “I just think this is terrible.”
According to Askins, the dairy on Rangeline Road southwest of Bowling Green, has repeatedly violated manure lagoon and manure application regulations during the last 13 years.
“There has been a history of violations,” she said of the former Mander Dairy which is now owned by Drost Land Co.
Askins informed the commissioners last summer that when Manders Dairy went bankrupt four years ago, it left behind about 10 million gallons of manure it its lagoon. Federal law requires that the manure must be taken care of when a CAFO closes, Askins said. And Ohio EPA requires that no manure be applied to farm fields unless up-to-date soil samples and manure analyses are obtained.
Askins, a watchdog of mega dairies in Wood County, said neither has been done. The lagoon is nearly full, and no field application study documentation can be found. Yet, she had seen evidence of “manure irrigators” being constructed near the site.
“Everybody acts like this is OK,” she said. “Nobody’s taking any responsibility for this place.”
Manure that seeps from the lagoon does not stay onsite, but makes its way to nearby Tontogany Creek, Askins said. “A tributary of Tontogany Creek goes into the Maumee River one mile upstream from the Bowling Green water intake.”
The problem is not about to lessen, since owners of the Rangeline Road dairy are interested in expanding, she said. A few miles to the east, the MSB Dairy recently expanded to 2,960 cows. But according to Askins, U.S. dairies are dumping milk due to the current “glut.” A similar excess of milk about seven years ago led to such low prices that several mega dairies went under, she said.
Askins asked the commissioners to send a letter to the Ohio EPA asking for the dairy to be penalized or shut down.
“This is just appalling to me. There are so many violations,” she said. “Somebody needs to make this place accountable.”
Also returning to the county commissioners’ office on Tuesday was Ferner, who again asked the board to consider signing onto a resolution designating Lake Erie as “impaired.”
The resolution has been endorsed by the Lucas County Commissioners and the state of Michigan. According to Ferner, the EPA has taken a “hands-off approach” to the issue.
“We think the voice of local government is important,” he told the Wood County Commissioners.
According to the Sierra Club, more than 700 million gallons of manure are spread on fields draining into the Western Basin of Lake Erie just from 146 registered Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The Maumee River acts as a pipeline for that phosphorus into Lake Erie. The phosphorus feeds algal blooms, which in 2014 caused Toledo to warn nearly 400,000 people not to drink the city’s water which comes from Lake Erie.
The “impaired” designation would trigger a full-scale investigation of all possible sources of pollution going into the lake, and then require action to reduce that contamination.
Ferner said a similar action was taken in the Chesapeake Bay area, which allowed about $2 billion in federal funding to be used to solve the problems there. Prior to that, voluntary efforts were tried for nearly 20 years – but it was only when mandatory goals were set that the area recovered.
“We’re hoping for the support of county commissioners here to make that happen,” he said.
Commissioner Craig LaHote asked if the resolution would just be symbolic since the “impaired” designation is based on science.
Ferner said political forces are sometimes more powerful than science. “It helps build a case,” he said. “What we’re saying is, we have a big problem.”
Commissioner Ted Bowlus asked about research already being conducted. “Are we making any improvements at all?”
Ferner said a comprehensive sampling process is needed to hold those contaminating responsible. “We keep trying to peel away layers of the onion,” he said.