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Record number of comments delay decision on proposed Fillmore County hog farm

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Pam Seebach, a pastor of Newburg United Methodist Church.
On July 3, 2018, Pam Seebach, a pastor of Newburg United Methodist Church, read a statement from the Fillmore County Amish community opposing the sow farm being proposed near Newburg Township.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News file

The owners of a proposed sow farm in Fillmore County might not know until the end of the year whether it will have to do an extensive environmental study for the project.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Wednesday it is delaying a decision on whether the company, Catalpa LLC, must complete an Environmental Impact Statement as part of its proposal. An EIS is an extensive analysis of a project's potential environmental risks and its alternatives and is rarely completed for feedlots. 

The company has completed a less-intensive Environmental Assessment Worksheet and permit applications, but MPCA officials said they need more time to respond to 771 comment letters it received from the public since those documents were submitted. MPCA officials said in a news release that it was a record number of comments for such a project. 

The sow farm faces opposition from local community members in Newburg Township, which is located about 14 miles east of Harmony. In July, a group of residents and members of the Land Stewardship Project protested outside MPCA headquarters, urging the agency to require an environmental impact statement. 

The Catalpa project is a 4,800-head swine farrowing facility with two barns, an animal composting building, a storm basin and a livestock watering well, according to the MPCA. It would generate an estimated 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure annually, which would be used as fertilizer on nearby cropland.

The Land Stewardship Project and local residents have raised concerns about manure getting into groundwater because of the area's sensitive karst geology, which can make groundwater more susceptible to contamination. Late last month, the Newburg Township board approved a year-long moratorium on feedlots in response to the Catalpa proposal. 

The Environmental Assessment Worksheet and comment letters are posted on the MPCA's website under a search for "environmental review."

The MPCA expects to decide by Dec. 31 on whether the project must undergo additional scrutiny.