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Published: Monday, 12/18/2006

5,000-cow megadairy plan angers residents

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OGDEN CENTER, Mich. - Residents have put on their fighting gloves, and county officials are warning of problems in the brewing battle over a proposed 5,000-cow megadairy.

Vreba-Hoff LLC, which was cited for more than a dozen environmental-quality issues earlier this month by the Michigan attorney general's office, is pushing to add a third megadairy in southeast Michigan, this time about 20 miles northwest of Sylvania.

The farm would be on 200 acres at Mulberry and Treat roads in Lenawee County's Ogden Township.

A special Ogden Township Board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow is to provide more information on the project. Some residents worry it will generate problems similar to those they attribute to Vreba-Hoff's other facilities.

The company already owns two similar farms just south of Hudson, Mich. - one on Dillon Highway in rural Lenawee County and another operated three miles to the west off U.S. 127 in Hillsdale County. Together the facilities have about 6,000 cows.

"We've seen all the negative things the people of Hudson have had to deal with because of Vreba-Hoff," said Mike Fike, whose family has been farming in Ogden for more than 50 years. "We're trying to organize to get this proposed development stopped."

Township Supervisor James Goetz said there is opposition from residents because the township does "not have enough water and there is concern about disposing of waste and how this might contaminate existing wells and surface water."

Cecilia Conway, a spokesman for Vreba-Hoff, said an agreement to purchase the land has been reached, and that area farmers have agreed to let the proposed farm spread excess manure on up to 4,800 acres.

She said the Ogden project is in its early stages and that Vreba-Hoff is waiting on some well tests to discover if there is enough water to operate the facility.

"It would then be our goal to move forward with the permit application for construction and then build in the spring or early summer," she said.

One cow produces waste equivalent to 23 to 30 humans, which means the proposed farm could produce sewage challenges equivalent to a 150,000-person city. According to the 2000 U.S. Census report, Ogden Township has a population of 1,063.

The attorney general's office cited Vreba-Hoff for 13 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality violations earlier this month, plus six general areas of concern by that agency's water bureau. Dozens of other violations were also previously issued before Vebra-Hoff installed a waste processor to comply with a consent judgment the company entered into with the Michigan DEQ in December, 2004.

Mr. Goetz said the township may try to put an ordinance in place to restrict water usage, "not so much to prevent this dairy farm, but to protect all residents' water use."

Paul Nelson, Lenawee's director of environmental health, said that if the proposed farm is developed, "everyone should have their wells checked regularly to make sure that there is no contamination in the water supply.

"And, if that farming operation does cause contamination or takes water away from residents' existing wells, then, well, they would need to make some sort of restitution to those residents," he said.

Orrin Gregg, managing director of the Lenawee County Road Commission, said Vreba-Hoff met with his department and the Lenawee Chamber of Commerce last week to discuss potential impacts the Ogden Township project could have on local roads.

"This is the first time one of these dairies have started talking to us in advance, during the planning stages," Mr. Gregg said.

He said he told Vreba-Hoff it must repave the local roads to weather the extra weight and use its operation would cause.

Because, Mr. Gregg said, otherwise, "The roads would go belly-up the moment their concrete trucks started coming into town to begin construction."

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch at: babloch@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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