City, dairy plant reach ‘compromise’ on sewage

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Farm Forum

ZUMBROTA, Minn. — The Zumbrota City Council has approved a compromise of sorts regarding ongoing sewage issues with the Dairy Farmers of America plant.

After a 15-minute discussion on Jan. 8 that included comments from DFA officials, the city council voted 4-1 to not double the fines leveled against the dairy plant for material released into the city’s wastewater treatment system in October and November. The council also decided not to issue fines for more than 56,000 gallons of mysterious black sludge that city officials believe was discharged from the plant into the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

Those decisions mean Dairy Farmers of America fine was reduced from $36,382.50 to $18,191.25, according to City Accountant Kim Simonson.

However, it wasn’t all good news for the dairy plant.

Zumbrota Mayor Rich Bauer said the city has been researching other cities that host similar dairy facilities and realized that Zumbrota’s agreements with DFA are out of line with industry standards. As such, a subcommittee has been charged with reviewing the city’s fee and fine schedules.

Those issues will be revisited at the next city council meeting on Jan. 22.

“To some degree, I guess, it was a compromise,” Bauer said of the Jan. 8 actions. “After looking at stuff and reviewing what other communities were doing, it was obvious we haven’t been charging enough.”

Lucy Schwartz, DFA’s plant manager in Zumbrota, directed all questions to DFA’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Monica Massey, who is based out of Missouri. She did not respond on Jan. 9 to requests for comment.

Bauer said he expects that the subcommittee will recommend increasing the plant’s operating fee while raising the fine amount for the third time since 2009. DFA was paying $1.50 per unit in fines as recently as 2009, but it was raised to $4.50 per unit in 2014 after the plant was fined $90,000 last summer for biological oxygen demand violations.

Bauer said the fine amount could be increased to $6 per unit by the city council later this month, though that will require city council approval.

Additionally, the city council plans to more clearly define what constitutes a spill. That became a contentious point during the most recent violations.

City officials claimed the spills weren’t reported as required by the permit, giving them authority to double the plant’s fine. DFA countered by saying the alleged spills weren’t violations because the process was stopped as soon as an issue was recognized at the plant.