Penalties ordered Iowa cattle feeder suit

Nick Rees May 13, 2010, 12:50pm


DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline) - A Hancock County, Iowa, judge has ruled that a Forest City cattle feeder must pay $17,000 in civil penalties for numerous environmental violations.

Monroe Branstad was charged with excessive water pollution resulting from a sweet-corn silage runoff that entered the Winnebago River from his large cattle-feeding operation.

Hancock County District Court Judge Colleen D. Weiland issued a consent order, judgment and decree Tuesday ordering the penalties, which resolve a lawsuit that was filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office.

The order shows that Branstad "admits that on August 28-29, 2008, sweet-corn silage leachate, a pollutant, discharged from a containment basin on his farm operation into the Winnebago River."

Branstad said the violations were unintentional, the order says, and he has denied that the admitted discharges resulted in the death of fish in the Winnebago River.

Branstad also "reserves the right to contest any claim for damages" brought by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for fish killed. It was estimated by DNR officials that, at the time of his infractions, thousands of fish died along a 16 mile stretch of the Winnebago River.

The violations allegedly happened in August 2008, when Branstad's cattle business had nearly 900 head of cattle in open lots and another 200 head confined in buildings.

The discharge came to Miller's attention when a local resident notified a DNR fisheries biologist that numerous dead fish could be seen downstream on the Winnebago River in Cerro Gordo County. After an investigation by the DNR, it was discovered that Branstad had constructed a silage runoff containment basin.

Branstad was instructed to dig a trench around the silage runoff containment basin to search for and cut any tile. During the tile search, silage leachate runoff poured out. Samples of the leachate taken from the broken tile indicated "extremely high concentrations" of biochemical oxygen demand, carbonaceous oxygen demand, total suspended solids and ammonia nitrogen.

The suit further alleged that Branstad had failed to pay a $4,500 administrative penalty assessed in March 2007 for a separate matter concerning solid waste and open burning violations.

Under the decree, Weiland ordered Branstad to pay the $4,500 plus $2,295 interest, and to pay $10,205 for the August 2008 water pollution violations.

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