Board Backs Commissioner Dairy Decision

A Thief River Falls-area dairy failed to convince the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board Tuesday that it was wrongfully denied the right to operate.

The MPCA board voted 8-0 to uphold Commissioner Paul Eger’s decision that Excel Dairy does not comply with its manure handling permit.

The commissioner ruled in January that he would not issue Excel another permit after repeated complaints of air pollution and other issues.

The dairy requested the hearing so the MPCA board could reconsider Eger’s ruling.

Excel’s attorney, Jack Perry, said the dairy has solved or is working on solving its pollution issues. He asked the MPCA for guidance on dealing with remaining issues, adding that some were too expensive to handle without knowing the dairy will be able to operate in the future.

"Put conditions on us to get us in compliance," he said.

Perry added that Excel should be judged by its status now, not the issues it had in the past.

"We could spend hours talking about history," he said. "That’s not productive."

Robert Roche, an assistant attorney general, told the board Excel repeatedly put off efforts to complete several fixes the agency required more than a year ago and was using the same arguments it did then to maintain the right to operate.

"I honestly believe the company is playing games," he said.

In the end the board was not swayed by Excel’s case.

The dairy "has not put forth good faith" in solving air pollution and odor issues, said board member Donald Schiefelbein.

The dairy has been closed since January 2009, when the state filed air quality regulations against Excel and the Dairy Dozen, its parent company.

The MPCA’s issues with Excel stretch back several years. Two dozen neighbors of the dairy have argued that odors from the farm have hampered their quality of life and forced them several times to evacuate their homes.

Excel filed for bankruptcy protection this month.

The dairy’s owner, Rick Milner, told the Grand Forks Herald recently that if he got the MPCA permit he could have 1,600 cows back in the barns within a year and odor problems controlled according to state regulations.

The dairy is also fighting for its permit in the Minnesota Appeals Court. It argued in March that the MPCA acted improperly in revoking the permit.

A decision in that case could come within weeks.