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Two dairy farms, cheese plant assessed $190,000 penalty for violations

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul says two large dairies and a cheese plant have reached settlements totaling $190,000 for violating the state's water pollution and wastewater laws.

Two large dairy farms in Wood and Manitowoc counties along with a cheese plant in Crawford County have been fined for violating the state's runoff and pollution control laws.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced on Feb. 18 that the three facilities will be required to pay $190,000 in forfeitures, surcharges, court costs, and attorney fees.

“Holding those who break these laws accountable isn’t just good for the environment. It also keeps the playing field level for family farms and other small businesses that are doing the right thing by following the law and protecting clean water,” said Attorney General Kaul.

Tri-Star Dairy, Inc.

Tri-Star Dairy, Inc., a CAFO in Wood County was charged with allowing its 11.7 million gallon water storage facility to overflow onto cropland that found its way into a tributary of Mill Creek in May of 2017. DNR officials estimate that 165,000 gallons of manure was released due to the farm failing to remove sand from the storage facility which caused the overflow.

RELATED: Malone dairy fined for discharging manure that contaminated waterways, killed fish

The Auburndale, Wis., dairy also failed to report that spill to authorities with owner Mark Vobora telling DNR officials he "didn't think they (DNR) could have done anything differently that he could do on his own", according to the complaint.

The DNR complaint also fined the dairy for failing to mitigate the impacts of the four-day unauthorized discharge of pollutants into state waters.

The judgment requires defendants to pay $55,000 of forfeitures, surcharges, court costs, and attorney fees, and to submit photographic proof to the DNR for the next two years so that DNR can more easily ensure safe manure management and storage at the CAFO going forward.

This is the second time that DOJ has had to prosecute Tri-Star Dairy for manure management-related violations. 

Maple Leaf Dairy

Maple Leaf Dairy, a business that operates several dairy farms in Manitowoc County, has been charged $85,000 in fines and court costs for water pollution and wastewater violations.

According to the complaint, the Cleveland, Wis., dairy was suspected to have discharged contaminated runoff into an unnamed tributary to Fisher Creek on multiple occasions, constructed three new facilities without the Department of Natural Resources' approval, and failed to submit engineering evaluations of existing facilities to the DNR as required by the dairy's Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. 

The complaint was settled outside of court. In addition to the $85,000 in fines and court costs, the agreement also requires Maple Leaf Dairy to upgrade the runoff controls on the feed storage area at one farm and on the calf hutch area at a second farm. The business also agreed to stop using a feed storage area that has inadequate runoff controls at the second farm.

According to the complaint, the Manitowoc County Soil and Water Department received a complaint in March 2015 about the water quality in an unnamed tributary of Fisher Creek directly north of the farms at County Road X in Cleveland. Staff investigated the claims and saw the tributary contained dark and opaque water.

Further investigations and an inspection of the farms showed the pollution was coming from a feed storage leachate line that had blown out. The inspection also showed feed leachate was leaking from a feed bunker.

Later that summer, Maple Leaf Dairy was served a violation notice from the DNR for allowing feed storage leachate and runoff into local waterways. As a result, Maple Leaf Dairy agreed to collect 100% of the runoff until they could make modifications to their wastewater treatment systems.

According to the complaint, an unannounced inspection of the farms was performed in September 2016 and dark-colored runoff with a strong odor of feed leachate was found flowing into a local waterway from one of the farms.

By October 2016, there was still runoff flowing from one of the farms into local waterways and no mechanisms were in place to collect it.

According to the news release, this is the second time Maple Leaf Dairy has been prosecuted for manure management-related violations. The business was fined $58,938 in 2006 for suspected water pollution. That case was also settled outside of court.

Mt. Sterling Cheese

Southwestern Wisconsin Dairy Goat Products Cooperative, also known as Mt. Sterling Cheese, was fined $50,000 for violating its WPDES permit.

The cooperative that accepts milk from various states throughout the Midwest produces around 337,600 gallons of wash water and liquid whey each year.

According to the complaint, Mt. Sterling Cheese allowed an unpermitted discharge of wastewater from the facility over at least two days in summer of 2018. The discharge, which contained high levels of pollutants such as chloride, spilled over onto a corn field and drained into a nearby pond. The complaint alleges that plant officials failed to timely report this runoff event to the DNR.

During the investigation, it was also discovered that Mt. Sterling Cheese Vice President Patricia Lund had directed employees to dispose of waste water on land unapproved by the DNR. 

Alisa M. Shafer of the Manitowoc Herald Times also contributed to this report