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Settlement announced in ValAdCo dispute
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The ValAdCo Norfolk 27 hog lot facility has the largest hog manure lagoon in the state. It holds 13 million gallons of manure. Under the proposed agreement the lagoon will be drained and replaced by covered cement storage pits. (MPR Photo Tim Post)
An agreement today appears to settle a long running battle over the largest hog feedlot manure lagoon in Minnesota. The settlement between the state attorney general and the owners of the ValAdCo hog company grew out of a nearly decade-long fight over the health impacts of fumes from the facility. Under the agreement Valadco will stop using open air lagoons.

Renville County, Minn. — The ValAdCo hog feedlots in Renville County were controversial from the start. The farms had huge uncovered pits filled with hog manure.

Local residents said the fumes from the lagoons were a health threat and made the area practically unlivable.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provoked a storm of protest in 1993 when it issued a ruling saying there was "no potential for significant environmental impacts from the hog feedlots.

The settlement with the state seems to prove that early finding in error. Renville County Commissioner Francis Schweiss says neighbors found the stench overwhelming.

"If they were downwind from these lagoons," he says, "Why, it got pretty unbearable. And then with these big lagoons my big concerns are our groundwater aquifers and stuff like that. Once it gets down into there, that's not good."

At one point citizens living near the Valadco site purchased an air tester. They found that the hog feedlot exceeded allowed standards for emissions of hydrogen sulfide.

Under the agreement between Valadco and the attorney general's office the company will be allowed to continue raising hogs. The company will drain a 13 million gallon lagoons and replace them with closed holding tanks. Lagoons on five other farms will be drained and returned to wetlands.

The company will also pay a 125-thousand dollars in civil penalties to the pollution control agency.

Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch credits citizens who opposed ValAdCo with bringing about the debate which lead to the settlement.

"The good news," Hatch says, "Is that this suit would not have occured had it not been for the strong support of the community, and frankly, for those people bring that to our attention."

"The bad news is, they had to wait ten years. A lot of government agencies, I think, should have been more diligent at the beginning, should have used a little more foresight, and the citizenry wouldn't have had to be so aggressive on it. But it does show, by citizen involvement that the government does respond."

Hatch says Christensen Farms of Sleepy Eye intends to purchase Valadco.

In one recent ranking Christensen is the 8th largest hog company in the U.S. The settlement over Valadco still must go before a district court judge. That will happen at the end of the month. If approved, cleanup and new construction could begin in the spring.

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