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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Michigan slaps lien on Ohio-based dairies

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The state of Michigan has filed a $580,000 lien against a financially troubled Wauseon company's two megadairies in southeast Michigan after the company allegedly failed to pay an agreed-upon settlement in a 2003 environmental-protection case.

Judge James Giddings approved the lien against Vreba-Hoff Dairy LLC recently in Ingham County Circuit Court on behalf of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. He gave the state and the dairy until Oct. 18 to reach a settlement, including any outstanding financial issues regarding the operation of a pair of 2,000-head dairies in Lenawee and Hillsdale counties.

The 2003 lawsuit revolved around how the two dairies treated their liquid waste. It was the first of four lawsuits filed by Michigan environmental-protection officials about how the two dairies handle their liquid waste; the most recent suit was filed as late as December.

The department of natural resources and environment is “in negotiations right now with the dairy on a settlement. We're telling them, either meet the environmental quality standards or reduce your herd,” department spokesman Mary Dettloff said yesterday.

Cecilia Conway, a spokesman for Vreba-Hoff, said the lien was “not unexpected” because the state had the ability to file a lien against the property to ensure that the dairy operations met their environmental obligations.

“We have been irrigating without discharge for over three years, and we're looking, with their ongoing cooperation, at alternative operating standards,” Ms. Conway said.

Vreba-Hoff Development LLC, a Wauseon firm that recruited Dutch dairy farmers to the Midwest and the parent company of the two southeast Michigan megadairies, has battled lawsuits from farmers and lenders alike as dairy prices have foundered in recent years. Several of the company's projects have sought bankruptcy protection over the last several months.

Ms. Conway said the company intends to work through its issues. “It's our intent that we're going to be continuing operation. Right now, we're financially struggling, but that's across the dairy industry,” she said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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