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Proposed hog farm raises concerns near Devils Lake

RAMSEY COUNTY—A proposed pig farm operation near Devils Lake is raising public health concerns in the area as residents wait on information from state officials and the opportunity to voice their opinions at public hearings.

Grand Prairie Agriculture submitted an application June 19 to for a livestock waste system on a concentrated animal feeding operation to be located in Pelican Township, on the edge of the waters of Devils Lake, south of Churchs Ferry, N.D. The permit is for a planned swine farm that would produce about 44,000 piglets per year. The farm, if approved, would start with 1,928 sows.

Ramsey County Public Health administrator Allen McKay said hog farms bring concerns over potential contamination of groundwater and the spread of disease from the pigs themselves.

About 70 percent of Pelican Township is underwater. The area is surrounded by bodies of water connected to Devils Lake.

"That's the concern for us," McKay said.

Pig waste contains nitrates and phosphates, which could affect water quality if not properly contained.

"If it gets in the lake, the lake turns green, it's bad," McKay said.

Most swine farms have lagoons designed to control and contain the waste. The Grand Prairie plan calls for using slatted floors in gestation and isolation barns on site to drain into concrete pits, which Grand Prairie says will store a year's worth of waste from the farm's barns. They plan to dispose of the waste on surrounding cropland using an injection applicator system.

"If that doesn't leak, no problem," McKay said. "Except for the smell."

The soil at the waste storage and farrowing barn site is described in the application as lean clay and sandy loam. The gestation barn sits 2.6 feet above the ground surface from the seasonal high water table, according to the application. The farrowing barn is 5.8 feet above the seasonal high water table.

McKay said the farm should also have a plan to remove waste and other remnants should the operation fail so the county and state aren't left to deal with the cleanup.

Lois Steinhaus, one of about a dozen residents in Pelican Township and a retired nurse, said she's concerned about the health impact of the project and the potential damage to the environment should Devils Lake become contaminated. She is also concerned about the project's proximity to the Spiritwood aquifer system.

"The benefits don't outweigh the risks," she said.

Steinhaus said she's reached out to the Department of Health to request a public hearing on the proposed farm.

Marty Haroldson, a program manager at the Department of Health, said the permitting process for a concentrated animal feeding operation in the state usually takes six to nine months. A public hearing will only be called if enough people express public interest via calls and emails, he said.

Once the project is nearing the completion of its permitting stage, the health department will post a public notice and give 30 days for public comment, at which point a hearing could be called.

"It's going to be a little while," Haroldson said.

Any potential expansion to the proposed farm, which Haroldson described as medium-sized, would have to go through a new permitting process.

Ramsey County currently has one concentrated animal feeding hog operation, located north of Edmore, N.D. That project caused concern because it was near streams that feed into Devils Lake when it was established a decade ago.

There are about 80 concentrated animal feeding operations in the state.