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State sues farmer for dumping manure

Jan Vander Hoff, owner of the VanderHoff-Haley Dairy on Haley Road in Dover Township, several miles southwest of Adrian, was cited for seven violations by the Department of Environmental Quality between June 18, 2001, and July 31, 2004.

The suit alleges the manure discharges contain pollutants at concentrations that could cause health problems to area residents and damage the environment.

Mr. Vander Hoff has about 600 cows on his farm, which environmental quality officials describe as a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.

"We cannot turn a blind eye to the damage the CAFOs can do to Michigan's environment when they are not run properly," said environmental quality department Director Steven Chester. "CAFO owners must take action to ensure that the waters in their neighborhood are protected from the impacts of dairy production."

Mr. Vander Hoff could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Robert McCann, an environmental quality department spokesman, said the state was reluctant to file the suit. "We try to work with the owners to prevent this from happening. But when [the violations] continue for several years and we're not seeing a commitment from the owner to take action, then we use legal action as a last resort," he said.

Mr. McCann said it was only the second suit filed by his department against a concentrated animal

feeding operations. A similar suit was filed last year against Vreba Hoff Dairy LLC near Hudson, Mich. That suit is pending.

In the Vander Hoff case, a neighbor alerted authorities in 2001 about the presence of manure in Bear Creek, which runs into Rice Lake near the Vander Hoff farm, Mr. McCann said.

Visits by environmental quality department field agents to the Vander Hoff farm over a three-year period found manure had been improperly stored; during heavy rains, the manure storage areas overflowed, sending the pollutants into nearby drainage ditches, and the storage tanks were damaged and leaked, Mr. McCann said.

He said repeated efforts by the field agents to get Mr. Vander Hoff to comply with state regulations failed. "We wanted to work with him, but we just didn't see any progress happening," Mr. McCann said.

Mr. Vander Hoff and the owner of the Vreba Hoff farm are immigrants from Holland who Mr. McCann believes have a family connection. He said language and other cultural differences were not an issue.

"A lot of these Dutch farms follow the same general format, but I don't think [cultural differences] have ever been brought up as a problem. Maybe it was an initial barrier, but in the end, we were definitely getting the message across to them," Mr. McCann said.

Mr. Vander Hoff is an uncle of the six Vander Hoff siblings who are partners in the Vreba Hoff dairy businesses that operate large dairies and help European immigrants develop large farms in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.

Cecelia Vander Hoff Conway, spokesman for the family businesses, said yesterday her uncle and his family try to be good environmental stewards and live on the farm they operate.

Mr. Vander Hoff could be fined up to $25,000 on each of the seven violations and would have to pay all costs to bring his farm up to code, Mr. McCann said.

Contact George J. Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.

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