BOARDMAN, Ore. -- Oregon's newest mega-dairy has repeatedly endangered nearby drinking water by violating environmental laws and should be shut down immediately, the state alleges in a lawsuit.
Lost Valley Farm opened in April 2017 near Boardman along the Columbia River in north central Oregon to supply the Tillamook County Creamery Association, which makes Tillamook Cheese.
Its wastewater permit allows up to 30,000 animals and 187 million gallons of manure per year.
Regulators approved the dairy despite objections from about 4,000 people and a dozen state and national health and environment organizations raising concerns about air and water pollution, water use and health impacts on nearby communities.
Since then the dairy has failed numerous inspections, has been cited four times and has been fined $10,640.
Each citation included steps the dairy was required to take to remain in operation. Each time, the dairy failed to comply with most of those requirements, the Oregon Department of Agriculture said in the lawsuit filed last week.
As a result, liquid manure and wastewater has repeatedly overflowed storage lagoons and seeped into soil.
The lawsuit seeks an immediate and permanent injunction prohibiting the dairy from creating any more wastewater.
Dairy owner Greg te Velde, who lives in California, declined comment.
In a written response to the lawsuit, te Velde and dairy manager Travis Love said the injunction would put them out of business, forcing them to lay off 70 workers, euthanize their cows, lose a $4 million per month milk contract, and default on local creditors.
“The department’s order would have significant ramifications to the local community where the dairy is located,” te Velde wrote. “Many of our employees are Latino and rely on the dairy to support their family.”
Love and te Velde said they currently are meeting all the permit requirements.
“In my experience and discussion with other dairy farms, (the inspector’s) approach to inspections and ODA’s approach to notices and penalties against Lost Valley Farm is much more stringent than at other dairies in Oregon,” Love wrote. “The dairy is a new facility. ODA is aware of this but is approaching compliance with the permit as if it is an established dairy that has been in operation for some time.”
The dairy is in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area, designated because groundwater already is high in contaminants.
Groundwater flows from the site to a large part of the area, so pollutants could potentially impact a broad area of the shallow aquifer, ODA said. That threatens 81 public water supply systems, including five within 10 miles of the farm. There also are many private drinking water systems within the area.
“Defendant’s repeated and gross violations of numerous permit conditions threaten human health, safety and the environment,” ODA told the court.
State officials don't know how much wastewater has been improperly released, because the dairy did not file required forms notifying officials of the releases and estimating amounts.
Last Friday, a judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring the dairy to operate in compliance with all permit requirements. Dairy owner te Velde will have a chance to argue against the state's request for an injuction on March 16.
The Tillamook County Creamery Association declined an interview request.
"Based on a number of recent factors that indicate deterioration of the Lost Valley operation, Tillamook has initiated the process to terminate our contract with Lost Valley Farm," the cooperative said in an email.
On Monday, Rabobank, a multinational agricultural lender, filed a separate lawsuit in Morrow County seeking to foreclose the dairy in connection with the foreclosure of two dairies te Velde owns in California.
According to the lawsuit, Rabobank is more than a year past-due on two of three commercial loans it made to te Velde. As of Jan. 2, 2018, te Velde owed $37.4 million on those two loans.
Lost Valley Farm is located on 7,000 acres near the 70,000-head Threemile Canyon Farms, which also supplies the Tillamook Dairy Cooperative.
Te Velde had operated a smaller dairy, with 8,000 animals, on land leased from Threemile Canyon Farms since 2002. He purchased land for the new dairy from the former Boardman Tree Farm in 2015.
"Thousands of Oregonians weighed in to object to this facility, but their voices were largely ignored by the state agencies and political leaders in charge of protecting our natural resources and water supplies," Ivan Maluski, policy director for Salem-based Friends of Family Farmers, said Wednesday.
Hannah Connor, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that opposed the dairy, called the violations detailed in the lawsuit a preventable disaster.
"It's exceedingly clear the agency made a huge mistake when it granted a permit to Lost Valley," she said. "To stop any further harm to the state's irreplaceable natural resources, Oregon must now take the appropriate steps to improve its oversight of this industry and fix the weaknesses in its permitting program."
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