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Manure stockpile may get to stay until fall

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Planning Commission Wednesday night granted initial approval for a conditional use permit to Randy Wiertsema, rural Rushmore, to keep a manure stockpile in the northwest quarter of Section 25, Little Rock Township, until the manure can be applied to crop ground following this fall's harvest.

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Wiertsema was the farmer who stockpiled cattle manure on the site this spring that ultimately created runoff into a nearby gravel pit pond. The discovery was made May 29 by Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith. The land is owned by Ronald Wiertsema.

Randy Wiertsema explained that he purchased the manure and had it hauled to the site in Little Rock Township in early April.

"I was in error that (the manure pile) sits on relatively flat ground, but is too close," Wiertsema told the planning commission, explaining that the stockpile was placed approximately 285 feet from the water body and "too close to the road."

"I essentially made a terrace out of a pile of (manure)," he said. "As it started to rain, it started moving."

Wiertsema said the manure is "nowhere near a liquid state," and that the quantity of manure that actually reached the pond is "anybody's guess."

"It could be a 5-gallon pail full ... or a pick-up load full at the most," he said. "They did not find anything abnormal in the water -- therefore it couldn't have been a lot."

Since the discovery of manure running off the stockpile and into the pond, Wiertsema created a berm with black dirt to hold the runoff and keep it from reaching the water body. He also pumped three loads of manure-laden liquid from the site in mid-June and continues to monitor the pile following rain events.

"You can take all the science you want, but the fact is it's holding water," Wiertsema said. "I would like to, as soon as I get the crop out, haul it out and get rid of it. I really don't have any other feasible options. I've invested quite a bit of money in this project."

Planning commission member Paul Schilling visited the site prior to the meeting and said Wiertsema "has done quite a bit of landscaping, if that's what you want to call it" to prevent further runoff from the manure stockpile into the water.

"I think he knows that wasn't the right place to haul it, but that's 20-20," Schilling said. "You can't do anything about it now."

Nobles County Commissioner Gene Metz was also critical of Wiertsema's actions.

"There were a number of things done wrong here," Metz said, adding that while the problems were remediated, Wiertsema needs to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"If this continues to happen, this is going to affect us as an industry," Metz continued. "We need to clean our own (manure) up here."

Wiertsema maintains he had no other place to stockpile the manure than the site near the gravel pit. He'd actually created to stockpiles of approximately 25 tons each in locations on two sides of the gravel pit.

"Where is this perfect spot?" he questioned. "They're tough to find. I've got no place to put it other than where it's at. I could bring it back to Thiers', I guess, and dump it in the cattle lot."

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has notified Wiertsema that if further manure runs off the stockpile and into the water, he will be subject to a $10,000 fine.

"I'm totally confident there will not be any manure getting in that water," Wiertsema said. "I'd bet you $10,000. But yes, it could, if you got enough rain."

"Randy's willing to bet $10,000 because that's what it's going to cost him (if there is runoff)," Smith added.

Wiertsema assured planning commission members that he would not use the site to stockpile manure again, but asked to have it remain in place until about Oct. 15.

Complicating matters is the fact that Reker Construction, Adrian, has the mineral rights to the gravel in the gravel pit. If it wants to access some of the material, it will need Wiertsema to relocate the manure stockpile prior to this fall.

Marv Wiertzema, a neighbor to the site, was concerned about the damage to the gravel as a result of the manure runoff. He was instrumental in ensuring Reker Construction received the rights to the gravel, and appeared before the planning commission in March with the request for Reker to mine the gravel from the approximately 2-acre site.

"I don't know what that gravel is worth with that manure juice going through there," Wiertzema said, requesting the planning commission deny Wiertsema's request to leave the stockpile where it is.

"There's no way you can get the gravel out of there with all the manure there," he added.

Mitch Reker, of Reker Construction, was also present at Wednesday's meeting. He said he's not interested in "getting in the middle of whatever tiff is going on over this," but simply wants to know what he can do if he needs access to the approximately 65,000 tons of gravel at the site.

"As of now, I have no reason to go get that gravel," Reker said, adding that it could quickly change, however, if the business had contracts to fulfill. "I can't bid a job if I don't know if I have access. I need to know for estimating and planning purposes."

Wiertsema said he wasn't aware that Reker Construction had a permit to mine gravel from the site this year, and said he did not put the manure there to harm the gravel.

"The claim that I'm trying to screw up that gravel is insane," Wiertsema said. "That stuff is false, that's all I can say."

Ultimately, planning commission members approved a conditional use permit allowing Wiertsema to keep the manure stockpile in place. Conditions placed on the permit include that Wiertsema attend a certified manure applicator course and that he relocate the manure stockpile by Oct. 15, or earlier at the request of Reker Construction in the event gravel is needed from the site. Reker must supply a minimum two-week notice before mining gravel at the site.

Final approval of the conditional use permit is required, and the request will advance to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 6.

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