Lawmakers hold hearing to discuss Oregon dairy's downfall

Associated Press

SALEM, OR (AP) — Oregon lawmakers are asking questions about what went wrong with a large dairy that is facing a lawsuit, regulatory problems and bankruptcy in an effort to find ways to prevent a similar situation in the future.

The Senate Interim Committee on Environment and Natural Resource scheduled a legislative hearing with the state's top agriculture and water regulators on Monday to discuss the problems with Lost Valley Farm, an 11-square mile dairy with nearly 14,000 cattle, in Boardman, the Capital Press reported.

The state should be wary of confined animal feeding operations deemed "too big to fail" due to the large numbers of animals involved, said Sen. Michael Dembrow, committee chairman.

Lost Valley Farm, owned and operated by Greg te Velde, near Boardman, Ore., on Sunday, March 18, 2018.

“I think most of us will agree this is a story of failure,” said Dembrow, adding that it’s unclear whether it’s a “failure of personalities or the whole CAFO program?”

Lost Valley Farm is the second-largest dairy in the state.

Its size was used as an argument against its forced closure, since cows will continue generating milk and waste regardless of a court order.

Lost Valley Farm is the most extensively monitored confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the state, with groundwater from 11 wells being tested for pollutants, said Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, during her testimony on the type of permitting required for dairies.

Repeated violations

The agency found wastewater problems at the dairy, repeatedly notified the company of violations, issued a hefty civil penalty and sought a temporary restraining order that resulted in a settlement, Taylor said.

It normally doesn't need to take such drastic measures against confined animal feeding operations, she said.

"It's really when an operator is unable or unwilling to be in compliance," Taylor said.

Weekly inspections of the Lost Valley Farm facility have continued since the settlement, but ODA is discussing further steps with attorneys from Oregon’s Department of Justice, she said.

“I think we are at a point the operation is not able to comply with the permit,” Taylor said.

Any regulatory action is separate from the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, she said.

Chad Allen, president of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, who was unable to testify during the hearing, said he wanted lawmakers to know that the agriculture department's swift action against Lost Valley Farm is proof that "the system clearly works."

Lost Valley owner Greg Te Velde has filed for bankruptcy in California. He has asked the judge to allow the sale of the dairy, cattle and property with a price tag of more than $100 million.

Coupled with the dairy's problems was also the recent arrest of its owner for methamphetamine possession and patronizing a prostitute and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Allen doubts other Oregon dairy operators have problems similar to Lost Valley.

"I think we'll be throwing water on this for a while in terms of getting it to cool down," Allen said.

The commission plans on continuing the discussion during legislative committee days in September.