Owner of Oregon ‘Mega Dairy’ Fights Waste Management Battle

Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska Extension ( Heavy amounts of manure distributed on fields may have pollutants that could reach groundwater within two years under water-saturated conditions. )

Despite state government actions pushing to shut down the second largest dairy in Oregon, Greg te Velde, owner of Lost Valley Farm near Boardman, Ore., continues to fight an ongoing waste management battle.

Built in April 2017, Lost Valley Farm has been in operation for only 16 months, however it has received numerous notices from the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) for improper waste management practices. Cited with endangering nearby drinking wells and groundwater, te Velde is now fighting to keep the operation running.

Settling a lawsuit with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) in March, te Velde agreed to limit the farm’s wastewater output to 65,000 gallons a day, installing water-saving nozzles and cutting down on the number of “flush times” used to clean the facility. However, te Velde has broken this agreement according to ODA, who estimates that he has used an extra 19,000 to 375,000 gallons per day.

Te Velde had also previously agreed to remove 75-acre feet, approximately 24.4 million gallons, of manure and wastewater from his lagoons by June 1, but missed that deadline. According to the farm’s owner, the dairy has experienced some “spills and splashes, but nothing catastrophic.”

Wym Matthews, manager of ODA’s confined animal feeding operation program, disagrees.

“ODA is worried that pollutants from the dairy will eventually reach groundwater, even if they haven’t yet,” Matthews said.

According to Kirk Cook, a geologist and program manager of ODA’s pesticide stewardship program, heavy amounts of manure distributed on fields may have pollutants that could reach groundwater within two years under water-saturated conditions.

On top of numerous fines accumulated during the past two years, te Velde has spent roughly $700,000 trying to comply with the legal settlement, according to Elizabeth Howard, his attorney. This is in addition to the $60 million loan te Velde took from Rabobank to build Lost Valley Farm.

As a means to repay some of the significant debt racked up over the past 16-months, te Velde made an agreement with Rabobank to disperse of his cattle in April. One day before the sale was set to take place, te Velde filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, preventing the bank from foreclosing on the property.

With a number of unhappy government officials, lenders and even the operation’s milk buyer, Tillamook County Creamery Association, filing lawsuits, Lost Valley Farm may continue to rack up debt as its owner pushes to keep the facility running.

“We’ve done everything a regulatory agency can do,” said Nicole DeFever, attorney for the state government.

Despite efforts used to bring Lost Valley Farm into regulatory compliance, the state hasn’t shown “clear and convincing” evidence that he violated the deal “willfully,” which is necessary to prove contempt, according to Howard.

Working to keep his operation running, te Velde, who is currently receiving treatment at Capo by the Sea, a drug and alcohol rehab clinic, will continue to fight this ongoing court case in the coming weeks.

 

For more on the Lost Valley Farm case, click here.

 
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