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By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF EMERALD — After a manure spill at Emerald Sky Dairy in December of 2016, nearly 3,500 tons of manure were removed from a nearby wetland the following summer, according to a report from the state Department of Natural Resources.
Kim Dupre, a Town of Emerald resident, made an open records request to the DNR for the report about the Emerald Sky Dairy manure spill and then shared the link to the online report with the Tribune Press Reporter.
Employees at Emerald Sky Dairy discovered that a clean-out riser pipe had burst earlier in December of 2016 and began repairing the pipe on December 19, 2016, according to the DNR’s 314-page report.
Emerald Sky Dairy did not report the manure spill to the DNR until three months later on March 30, 2017.
The manure transfer line from the Transition Management Facility (TMF) had burst at the clean-out riser pipe closest to the Waste Storage Facility (WSF).
The TMF houses heifers and cows, and the waste storage facility, also sometimes referred to as a manure lagoon, had a capacity of nearly 14.5 million gallons.
At the point of discharge near the waste storage facility, the manure flowed west/southwest and deposited in a wetland area. A pond constructed between 2007 and 2008 contained the majority of the manure. The pond has an outlet to a manmade conveyance channel that flows to the dairy’s stormwater pond, the DNR report states.
Manure was present in the conveyance channel that flows to the stormwater pond. The stormwater pond was intended to fill with uncontaminated stormwater runoff from Emerald Sky Dairy’s production site. After the stormwater pond is filled to capacity, it drains through an outlet control structure to a delineated wetland. The stormwater pond is not designed to contain any contaminated runoff, such as manure or leachate, according to the DNR report.
Emerald Sky Dairy is classified as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).
A CAFO is defined as 1,000 animal units or more, which translates into 700 milk cows, 1,000 beef steers, 2,500 pigs that are 55 pounds or larger or 55,000 turkeys. A dairy cow is 1.4 animal units.
Emerald Sky Dairy’s current conditional use permit allows up to 3,400 dairy cows, or 4,760 animal units.
Residents living in the Town of Emerald noticed in December of 2016 what they described as a manure spill. The Tribune Press Reporter attended two meetings at the Emerald Town Hall before the manure spill was officially reported, and both times, people talked about liquid manure “filling a ditch” near Emerald Sky Dairy.
Snow and cold
According to a report by Williams Engineering Services, a company hired by Emerald Sky Dairy, the extent of the manure spill was not apparent at the time it occurred because of snow on the ground.
The Williams Engineering report is included with the DNR report.
“Significant snowfall/snow pack cover frustrated the timely discovery of the extent of the release in December of 2016,” the Williams Engineering report states.
The Williams Engineering report also concludes the riser pipe failed sometime after December 9, 2016.
An experiment conducted by Williams Engineering, along with a review of weather history for December of 2016, leads to the conclusion the PVC pipe froze and then broke, releasing the manure for up to the next 10 days until the break was discovered. Weather data indicates overnight temperatures were mostly below zero Fahrenheit from December 9 until December 19 in 2016.
“A worst-case volume of no more than 275,000 gallons of liquid manure discharged from the failed riser pipe in December of 2016,” the Williams Engineering report concluded.
The cleanup of the wetlands mandated by the DNR was intended to restore the wetlands near Emerald Sky Dairy, at a minimum, to the same conditions that existed prior to the manure spill.
The steps taken to remediate the environmental impact included pumping out a stormwater pond where manure had accumulated; removing liquid contaminated with manure from the wetlands; removing solid manure from the wetlands; and pumping the stormwater pond two more times, according to the DNR report.
There was sufficient rain during the remediation period for the stormwater pond to fill substantially. The runoff water included water from the stormwater pond conveyance channel and retained runoff from
the wetland area, the DNR report states.
The first pumping of the stormwater pond resulted in 1.6 million gallons being removed and spread on 114 acres at 14,000 gallons per acre. The liquid pumped and spread on farm fields included 34.86 pounds of nitrogen per acre; 26.6 pounds of phosphate per acre; and 55.72 pounds of potash per acre.
The DNR report notes that land spreading of material removed from Emerald Sky Dairy because of the manure spill was applied according to the Emerald Sky Dairy nutrient management plan.
A total of 3,455.54 tons of solid manure were removed from the wetlands near Emerald Sky Dairy. The manure was spread at a rate ranging from 10 tons per acre to 50 tons per acre, depending on the field, according to the DNR report.
The total amount of manure removed from the wetlands was the equivalent of about 7,000 half-ton pickup truck loads or 6.91 million pounds of manure.
During the cleanup, a tear in the liner of the waste storage facility also was detected. A new section of liner was put over the tear, and then the liner was weighted down with a three-foot deep section of sand to seal the tear.
At the time of the remediation, representatives for Emerald Sky Dairy said they wanted to construct a new waste storage facility. In addition to the tear in the liner, excessive accumulation of manure solids had reduced the storage capacity, and the solids were unable to be removed from under the cover without damaging the structure, according to the DNR report.
Building a new waste storage facility would bring Emerald Sky Dairy into compliance with current state standards and would also address feed storage pad runoff, the manure solids stacking area and the calf shed runoff, the DNR report states.
According to information Dupre provided, a new waste storage facility has been built at Emerald Sky Dairy, and the old manure lagoon has been abandoned and filled in.
In some areas of the wetland, manure was 13 inches deep, and a yard stick was fully submerged without reaching the bottom of the discharged material on the south edge of the wetland pond, according to the DNR report.
Liz Griffith, safety director for Emerald Sky Dairy, reported the manure spill to the DNR hotline on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. The DNR had received an anonymous text message informing them of the manure spill at Emerald Sky Dairy on Tuesday, March 28. Steve Olson, a land use and conservation specialist with St. Croix County, had received an anonymous e-mail message regarding the manure spill and contacted the farm. Olson and Griffith conducted a site visit March 29, and Olson recommended Emerald Sky Dairy call the hotline about what he had discovered during his visit, according to the DNR report.
T.J. Tuls was not part of the Emerald Sky Dairy operation at the time of the manure spill, and the previous manager, Mark Tuls, was fired soon after the manure spill, although the reasons why Mark Tuls was fired were not known. Griffith also was not employed by Emerald Sky Dairy at the time of the manure spill, the DNR report states.
All together, Emerald Sky Dairy spent $152,519 on cleanup of the manure spill.
The DNR made a referral to the Wisconsin Department of Justice on April 26, 2018, about the Emerald Sky Dairy manure spill for alleged violations of the dairy’s Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
The alleged violations of permit conditions include production area discharge limitations; discharge prevention; duty to mitigate; spill reporting; and noncompliance 24 hour reporting.
A decision has not yet been made by the DOJ whether to take any enforcement action against Emerald Sky Dairy in the form of civil prosecution.
Emerald Dairy LLC was purchased by Emerald Sky Dairy on March 1, 2016.
In April of 2016, Emerald Sky Dairy submitted a preliminary application to modify the WPDES permit to expand the dairy facility.
DNR staff visited Emerald Sky Dairy August 30, 2016, to discuss the plans for expansion and noticed issues that required immediate action, such as stacks of manure, a pile of dead animals and a manure-laden sand building that was overflowing but with no runoff controls present.
Leah Nicol of the DNR spoke by telephone with Emerald Sky Dairy owner Todd Tuls about the issues that had been found on the site visit on September 2, 2016, and on October 4, 2016, a letter regarding Emerald Sky Dairy’s incomplete application for a modification to the WPDES permit was mailed out.
The DNR did not receive final application materials to modify Emerald Sky Dairy’s WPDES permit for the proposed expansion, according to the DNR report.