Tuesday, Nov 21, 2017
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State ag department seeks no money from those responsible for fish kills

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    A northern pike killed in a fish kill in Williams County in August.

    Ohio Department of Natural Resources

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    Ohio Department of Natural Resources

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The Ohio Department of Agriculture has only issued warnings to two people and has left it up to a local authorities to issue a warning to a third party following its investigation of a combined 66,701 manure-based fish kills in the Maumee River watershed in August.

The state agriculture department’s response to the fish kills was detailed in inspection finding reports released to The Blade Thursday in response to a public records request. They come a month after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced plans to seek more than $32,782.87 in restitution from three individuals whom it considered at fault in the fish deaths.

Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesman Brett Gates in a prepared statement said his department found that, in all three fish kill cases, “the manure discharges were caused by large unexpected weather events.”

“ODA will continue to work to ensure Ohio farmers, producers and applicators comply with Ohio laws and rules, which are designed to improve water quality and allow for productive agricultural operations,” Mr. Gates said in the statement. He did not elaborate.

According to inspection files he provided, which ranged from 22 to 49 pages, no violations were cited by state agriculture inspectors for the manner in which manure was applied in Hardin County by Matt Schaaf, of 4482 Wile Rd., Wooster, Ohio, and in Williams County by Mike Bockey of Bockey’s Ag-Lime, 9339 Brickner Rd., Delphos, Ohio.

Both are state-certified livestock managers. Both were issued written warnings for not keeping complete and accurate records.

The state agriculture department said Mr. Schaaf underestimated the application rate for 621,000 gallons of liquid manure he applied in Hardin County, but that — without knowing it — he still applied at a rate less than what is allowed by state law, which is 13,576 gallons per acre.

“I applied manure under the maximum allowable rate,” Mr. Schaaf told The Blade, adding he was “caught off guard” by the subsequent fish kill because he said he also applied the manure 48 hours before the next rain event, twice the required 24-hour waiting period.

Somehow, he said, manure he applied made it into the drainage tile and got flushed out instead of being absorbed into the soil.

“It was in the tile and nobody was aware it was in the tile,” Mr. Schaaf said. “The whole western [Lake Erie] basin has this algal bloom crisis. I get that. [But] farmers are trying to do the right thing. They don't want to over-apply nutrients, because nutrients are money.”

Mr. Bockey declined comment and hung up his telephone when contacted Thursday night.

In the Williams County case, the Ohio DNR is seeking restitution in the amount of $12,090.47 from Mr. Bockey for 15,264 dead fish. In the Hardin County case, the Ohio DNR is seeking restitution in the amount of $6,142.03 from Dan Wagner, owner of DJ Wagner Acres LLC, a dairy farm at 10759 County Road 175, Kenton, Ohio, for 14,615 dead fish.

David Youngpeter, of 633 S. Acadia Rd., Spencerville, Ohio, was instructed by the Allen Soil and Water Conservation District to take four actions for applying manure too close to an Allen County ditch. The conservation district is requiring him to complete an inventory and evaluation by March 1; begin work on a nutrient-management workbook by April 15 or have a management plan on file with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service by that date; complete that workbook or plan by May 30, and continue to follow best-management practices.

The Ohio DNR is seeking $14,550.37 in restitution from Mr. Youngpeter for 36,822 dead fish.

Mr. Youngpeter was not available for comment.

Mr. Gates said the Ohio Department of Agriculture “typically does not issue and state law discourages civil penalties for first-time paperwork violations,” citing Ohio Revised Code 119.14.

He said the state agriculture department worked closely with the local soil and water conservation district on the Allen County investigation, and allowed it to issue the notice of violation in that case.

Upon request, the state agriculture department also provided nine pages of records about an investigation into a complaint of a possible August manure release into a Mercer County stream.

The Ohio DNR has said water was fouled but no dead fish were found. The state agriculture department report shows the problem involved a plugged 12-inch tile near Heartland Dairy Holdings LLC, of Rockford, Ohio, but two of that agency’s inspectors also found no dead fish and the water “was clear and odorless” in the ditch when they got there.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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