South Dakota dairy plan worries Lake Hendricks, Minn.

Brenda Boeve and Jonathan Lengkeek, Lake Hendricks Improvement Association
Brenda Boeve and Jonathan Lengkeek with the Lake Hendricks Improvement Association are concerned that a proposed 4,000 cow dairy farm could damage the lake's water quality, here on Nov. 20, 2017. The group has filed a court challenge to block construction of the farm.
Mark Steil | MPR News

Straddling the Minnesota-South Dakota border, Lake Hendricks is a fishing and boating destination that helps drive the economy in far southwestern Minnesota.

Some here, though, worry that plans for a 4,000-cow dairy farm near the lake on the South Dakota side could wreck the lake and all it does for the region. They include businesspeople in nearby Hendricks as well as lake homeowners who've been fighting the dairy for years and have spent a small fortune to stop it.

In January, a South Dakota judge will hear arguments from dairy supporters and critics and then decide whether the county approval of the dairy was legal. Regardless of what decision comes down on legality, Brenda Boeve and other Minnesotans believe that putting a huge dairy farm here simply isn't right.

The Water Main
The Water Main

"This location, it's just not the right place for it," said Boeve president of the Lake Hendricks Improvement Association, as she stood at the shoreline on a recent day as a flock of geese glided across the water. "I love the nature that I can experience from this. The wildlife during all times of the year. The beauty of it in the winter."

The association has about 100 members working to improve water quality and recreational opportunities on the lake. They've committed time and energy to raise funds to stop the dairy. They've spent more than $100,000 to finance their court challenge. So far, they've been successful. Since they filed their first lawsuit several years ago, no construction has begun, and the proposed site of the operation is still an empty farm field.

Lake Hendricks in southwest Minnesota
Lake Hendricks in southwest Minnesota, here on Nov. 20, 2017, where a planned 4,000 cow dairy farm five miles away is being challenged in court.
Mark Steil | MPR News

But after officials in Brookings County, S.D., approved the application for the dairy farm last December, the lake group filed a second suit asking a South Dakota court to reverse that decision.

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Boeve and others say the concern is clear: 4,000 cows will produce tons of phosphorus-rich cow manure from the dairy that will be spread as fertilizer and wash off area farm fields.

"Eventually that phosphorus is going to work downstream, and get into the lake," said Jonathan Lengkeek, who owns a restaurant and bakery in Hendricks. "Phosphorus has been our biggest enemy in this lake as long as I've been around here."

Lake Hendricks is already on Minnesota's list of impaired waters. Although the improvement association says water quality has improved in recent years, its members fear phosphorus from the dairy would reverse those gains.

The lake impact on the town's economy is significant, Lengkeek said, noting that his restaurant receipts jump about 50 percent in the summer because of the lake traffic. "All of our businesses do well on Main Street and it's a lot to do with the lake. Because people come here every weekend, fill up the campsite, they spend money up town here."

Jonathan Lengkeek in front of the proposed 4,000 cow dairy site.
Jonathan Lengkeek stands in front of the proposed 4,000 cow dairy site on Nov. 20, 2017, in southwest Minnesota.
Mark Steil | MPR News

At a county hearing a year ago, the developer who wants to build the dairy, Michael Crinion, said there would be little chance of farm runoff making its way into Lake Hendricks. He said he would put environmental safeguards in place to prevent manure spills from the farm's storage lagoons. And he said that he would also take steps to limit manure runoff from fertilized fields.

Neither Crinion nor the government officials who approved the farm would comment for this story. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency feedlot program manager Randy Hukriede says the agency is monitoring developments with the proposed dairy.

South Dakota has been encouraging construction of more dairy farms, primarily in the eastern part of the state near the Minnesota border.

Boeve said for the most part she supports the effort to expand the agricultural economy. But for now, she and the residents around Lake Hendricks are alone in their fight against the proposed dairy.

It's been a difficult struggle. "I'll admit I am weary," said Boeve. "However, I am a fighter."