(upbeat music) - Hello and welcome to "The Journal."
I'm Steve Kendall.
CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations have been controversial in Ohio since the day the first ones were proposed.
Joining us to talk about that and where we are now is Vickie Askins of Lake Erie Advocates.
Vickie, talk to us about the history of this.
We're talking 20 some years now of these being proposed and now in place.
So kind of talk us through the initial start and we can talk about then how we got to where we are today.
- Okay I started figuring out what was going on, right after I retired, which was in 2000, and Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development from the Netherlands had come over and they had first gone into Michigan and then they came into Ohio.
And the first one that they, the first dairy that they built in Ohio was near Weston.
It was called Manders Dairy.
And then, that was before I retired, and then I found out they were putting one near Cygnet, which would've been about a mile from our home, and it was going to have 1,765 dairy cows and 24 million gallon manure pit.
- [Steve] Wow.
- Less than a mile north of our house.
And so when we heard about it, it's like, well, of course they have to follow rules, so everything should be okay.
Well, then we started hearing all the problems that they were having over at the Manders Dairy.
And so we, there was already a group in Wood County that was working on this the Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms, and so we got in touch with them because they had already announced another one in between there, Reyskens Dairy, which is closer to Custer.
And so they brought us up to speed on what was going on.
And basically, Vreba-Hoff was going to put 200 of these mega dairies in the tri-state area, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.
And because our environment was very similar to theirs in the Netherlands.
- Ah, okay, that was the reason why Ohio was trying to attract them and find a place for them.
And basically what had happened over in the Netherlands was the pollution was so bad that they paid them for their milk quotas, and they paid them a good price for their land.
And so they bought them out and they came over here.
And basically what they did was they would bring people over, I think they had 50 of them when we first started, and they would take them on a bus tour of the areas in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, where they thought there would be good locations.
And so they ended up in Wood County.
Well, the Wood County commissioners at that time, Jimmy Carter, Tim Brown and Alvie Perkins, they had written a letter to Ohio State University who was kind of in the middle of all of this and said, this is not a good area for liquid manure systems because this is the former Great Black Swamp.
We've got all of these, all of these miles of ditches and you know, it's all going to drain off and go into the ditch if you put, use this liquid manure system.
And so they had written to Bobby Moser, who was over the Ag Department down at Ohio State, and yet they decided they were going to do it anyway.
So they started building Manders in 2001, and it only had 699 cows, which is one below what?
- [Steve] Permitting limit, okay.
- And at the time, the person that was over the ODAs programs, they got upset because they said, we have this permitting system and you are obviously circumventing it.
[Steve] Trying to avoid it in some way, right?
- So they had already built it, and Dr. Midden from BGSU had a team of students that went out and they checked to see if they were discharging into the streams, and they found that they were discharging.
And so they had to get what is called an NPDS permit, a national pollutant discharge elimination system permit, just like factories do.
- And we're gonna hear a lot of acronyms as we go through this.
[Vickie] Yes, I'll try to remember to say the words.
And so that, what had happened was they were caught, the manure was coming right out the tile.
And so Dr. Midden went out and documented it all and said, "Hey, you know, this is what we were afraid of.
This is what was-" [Steve] Exactly what we told you was going to happen, and here it is.
[Vickie] Exactly, exactly.
Well, at the same time, when we were working with the Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms, they had commissioned a study, Case Western Reserve University was bringing a team of students out to that area, and they were doing water testing, and they were finding very high levels of E. Coli 015787, which is bovine E. Coli in the ditch beside the dairy and it was going, Tontogany Creek, it went right out to the Maumee River and discharged into the river.
So they knew there was a problem.
So I'll finish my story about the study first.
What happened was we were, they were documenting it all, they had documented their testing areas, and we, it was all supposed to be quiet so that there wasn't a big.
- [Steve] Yeah, people wouldn't get.
[Vickie] Threats and all that stuff.
And basically what happened was about the time they were going to announce their results, Tom Henry had an article in "The Blade" and it mentioned that Dr. Ronald Wright was going to announce the results of a study that he had done.
Well, that was the end of the study.
And finally, Dr. Wright came and met with us, and he was so visibly shaken that he could hardly talk.
And he brought his personal attorney with him and he said he couldn't remember where his testing sites were.
And it was, so.
- Yeah, there was, yeah, there was a real effort it appears to yeah, to manage the public relations on this apparently at that point.
- Yes, and so I think that's when we realized how big this might be.
So that's how it, that's how it got started in Wood County.
They basically had Manders Dairy, which was a smaller dairy, and then Reyskens Dairy was over by Custer.
It was supposed to have like 2,000 cows.
And ours was over north of Cygnet, it was supposed to have 1,765 cows, but they were already going into Sandusky County.
So we were helping the people in Sandusky County, too.
So it was obvious that they were gonna put as many of these as they could.
And they had, I mean, they had everything, you know, they had the engineer, they had everything that the people needed to do.
And so they bought this program when the immigrants would come over, they bought the program from Vreba-Hoff and then they would take care of all the details.
- Ah, so it was, yeah.
It was a, from their side, a fairly seamless operation when we come back as we'll, we're getting near the end of time here.
We can talk about, you know, you've laid out how this started, and then we can talk about what happens next in this process, because it's still going on.
There's been something that's within the last month or so has worked about the very things you're talking about.
This has been a 20 year journey still going on.
So, back in just a moment with Vickie Askins from Lake Erie Advocates here on "The Journal."
Thank you for staying with us here on "The Journal."
My guest is Vickie Askins from Lake Erie Advocates, and we're talking about the journey of Ohio's involvement in concentrated animal feeding operations from the day that they started, back around the year 2000 to where we are now, because things continue to evolve and develop there.
Vickie, we're talking about the history.
We've kind of gotten to the point where these things are going into Wood County, a lot of what people predicted, the negative aspects that they were concerned about have now appeared.
So you're now at that point where these things are obviously going into place.
What's the next thing that happens with regard to dealing with the fact that it appears the state is gonna move these things through, regardless of what the data may say to them and maybe what the possible negative outcomes are.
So where are you, at this point now where you've got these things going in and you're still saying, "Well, wait a minute.
What's this gonna be?
How are we gonna permit it?
How is this gonna be managed?"
So talk a little bit about that.
- Okay, well, basically what happened was, while we were fighting the dairy that was supposed to be located north of Cygnet, my husband's a former surveyor.
And so he was looking at the map of where they were building this.
Well, it's in a 100 year FEMA floodplain, and so there are rules, you're not supposed to put these.
- [Steve] In a hundred year, yeah, in a floodplain.
- Exactly, and that's when we got into this thing where FEMA had come into Wood County with their new floodplain maps, and there was one little rectangle in the middle of the floodplain flowing from Cygnet to Pemberville that was removed from the floodplain, and it was the dairy site.
[Steve] It just happened to be the dairy site.
- Yes, and the Wood county commissioner said, "No, put it back.
You know, that's not gonna work for us," so- [Steve] And what was their explanation?
They have an explanation for why they insert, they just said, "Oh, sorry, we made a mistake."
Well, yeah, didn't, or they assume that nobody was gonna notice, I guess.
[Steve] This is just so much bigger than we ever thought it was gonna be.
But Dave Steiner was the planning commission, and he did ask them why they did it.
And they didn't have a response for that.
- [Steve] They didn't have a response, it just appeared somehow.
- Yes, and then Larry also found that the engineer had altered a lot of the soil test results.
And so we asked the Wood County Prosecutor to look into it, and he said, "Yes, they investigated."
And he said, "Yes, they did."
But he said we'd have a hard time proving to a grand jury whether he did it intentionally or whether he was just incompetent.
- [Steve] Ah, okay.
- And so we had a lot of help along the way with Wood County, the Wood County engineer went out because they said there wasn't a problem with the floodplain, and they had altered the existing ground elevations on the construction plants.
And it was Ray Huber at the time, and Ray said, "No, you don't ever alter the existing ground elevations regardless of the construction."
So every time we would find something, you know, we appealed that permit.
And when we got it, it's down at, in Columbus, the Environmental Review Appeals Commission is they hear the appeals, because we had talked to so many of the landowners, and none of them had given permission.
A lot of them were older and had, you know, inherited the land.
And they had not given their farmer permission to put those fields in there.
So when we got down to ERAC, there's three commissioners, they're all environmental attorneys.
And they kept asking the Assistant Attorney General, why did you allow the director to do this?
Why did you allow them to do this?
And he just kept saying, "I cannot explain, I can't explain it."
And it was like.
- [Steve] Hmm, yeah.
- So now well, and when we actually got the results from our appeal, they ruled against us and they misquoted the law in order to do that.
- [Steve] Ah, wow.
- But our attorney said it would cost $30,000 to appeal that, - [Steve] To pursue that, yeah, so there we are.
- So we didn't go any further with that.
But basically, now that we did all of that background work, now they don't even have, like, the manure management plan used to be 2 or 300 pages with all the soil tests, and there was a five year plan for how to utilize the nutrients and what crop they were going to be growing.
Now they don't have that at all.
They just say, we're gonna sell it to somebody else.
And there's no accountability for any of them, and so that's the main problem.
And basically what has happened since they've been doing that, they gave all the money in the year 2000, the state of Ohio decided to transfer the NPDS permits for CAFOs to the Ohio EPA, or from the Ohio EPA to the ODA.
- [Steve] Department of Agriculture, yep.
- A more ag friendly administrate.
So basically what happened with that was they didn't have any money.
We talked to George Elmaraghy was the former head of surface waters down at the Ohio EPA for like 39 years, and we talked to him and he said, "Well, we didn't, they took the money away from us."
So we had to incorporate the ODAs manure management plan in our federal permits.
Well, last year when we got the decision, finally after 22 years from the US EPA about transferring this, and they denied it, they said, "No, they're still 81 provisions in your statutes and your roles that do not comply with federal regulations."
So this is the crux of the problem now, they're using ODA manure management plans that do not comply with federal regulations in the federal permits.
- Ah, and, and what is there when you, and obviously there have been lawsuits, there have been all these different tracks to try and get at this issue.
And you've mentioned their response is, "Well, we just can't explain why or how that happened."
Is that what happened in that case too, when someone pointed out, well, by the way, you have 81 areas where you're not in compliance with federal law.
What is their usual, I know their usual response must be to take a long time to get a response back to you, probably, I'm assuming.
- Well we thought this was gonna be a huge deal when Region Five denied their application, because that was 22 years, they had been trying to get that transferred over and there were still 81 provisions in their program that did not comply.
We thought that was gonna be a pretty big deal.
Well, Ohio EPA said, "Well, we're still doing the federal permits, so everything's fine."
And ODA said, "We're still doing the state permits, so everything's fine."
The problem is that the Ohio EPA is incorporating these ODA manure management plans that do not comply with federal regulations.
- Yeah, and so by splitting sort of jurisdiction up, that has made it more difficult to oversee and kind of get an idea of what exactly is taking place or should be taking place, but may not be for some reason.
- Yes, that's exactly right.
- And so you're at the point now where you've, all of this has been made public or it's been pointed out in all these lawsuits.
What's, what happens next now in this process?
Because you look, you're not in compliance, it's obviously been in the courts, different times with different judges.
How has that all shaken itself out as it goes to court in these various places?
What has been the response there in some of those situations?
- Well, the Lake Erie Advocates joined the Environmental Law and Policy Center out of Chicago.
They had already filed a lawsuit about what was going on in Lake Erie.
And so the advocates joined in and basically said, "You know, that Ohio EPA had not designated the Western Lake Erie as impaired."
Which it met all the criteria for being impaired, they just were dragging their feet.
And so finally after the lawsuit was progressing, they finally did declare it impaired.
But basically now they're just fighting every effort to make, get any accountability for the CAFOs.
And my husband actually went with Mike up to one of the meetings up in Cleveland, and Larry said that every time that the Environmental Law and Policy Center attorneys would say, "Well, you know, we think you need to do this."
They would say, "No, we're not gonna do it, and if you ask us again, we're leaving."
- Oh, wow, well, let's stop there.
We'll come back in just a moment, pick it up at that point.
Back in just a moment with Vickie Askins from Lake Erie Advocates here on "The Journal."
You're with us here on "The Journal," Our guest is Vickie Askins from Lake Erie Advocates.
And we're talking about the path that has been taken by Ohio in its concentrated animal feeding operations from their inception back around the year 2000 to where we are now in 2023.
We left that last segment.
We were talking about what appeared to be, if you looked at the documents, a very strong indication that now something was going to be done with regard to the various issues have been raised over the years about the oversight of these CAFOs.
Talk about what happened.
You touched on it just a little bit.
That settlement or that document comes down, that court decision.
And to the average observer, to the layman, "It's like, oh, this is now calling somebody putting, you know, holding their feet to the fire on this."
Is that really what's gonna happen here?
Or what is that status now with that particular situation that you were describing?
- Well, basically the lawsuit, Judge Carr had just made a decision that the Ohio EPA has to come up with a TMDL, total maximum daily load, which is basically the Clean Water Act says you're not supposed to discharge any pollutants into the waters of the state.
But if you have an NPDS permit, that gives you permission to discharge a certain amount.
- Certain amount.
- So basically that's what they're supposed to be doing is coming up with the TMDL, and I mean, it sounds so good.
Basically what they do is they go to the beginning, like I said, Tontogany Creek, they would go there and they would test all the way back until they found that it was clean.
[Steve] Found the source, the clean source.
- And then they would come back and find the source.
And so, perfect, that's exactly what we want.
But basically, they had a meeting here in Bowling Green about a month ago, and we reviewed the draft of the TMDL, and they had allocated no waste sources for CAFOs.
- Oh, so they're not producing anything that would figure into this daily management level.
- Because they claim that they're no discharge.
Well, and everybody at that meeting, I think there were at least 12 people that had made public comments.
Every single person at that meeting said, why aren't you doing something about the CAFOs?
I mean, it's obvious what has changed in the last 20 years since the lake was cleaned up.
You know, we've got all of these concentrated animal feeding operations in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
I mean, even there's like 70 I think, that are permitted, but there are thousands that are not permitted that are just below.
[Steve] That are below the Yeah, the permitting threshold.
- Yes, there's up, up in Coopersville, Michigan, which is at the corner of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, they process like 12,000 hogs a day.
So there's supposedly thousands of smaller hog operations that could be 2,000 hogs, you have to have 2,500 to get a permit.
Well, if you think about it, that's 8 million hogs that are not accounted for in this.
So basically when we went to this meeting and we saw that they hadn't allocated anything for CAFOs, you know, everybody commented on it, and Fritz, no, I can't think of his name from the Lucas County Commissioners, had come in, Fritz Byers, and he said, "How can you, how can you have a legitimate TMDL if you're not even doing anything with CAFOs?"
And the problem is, you know, they say they're no discharge, easy to say, but they had no allocations for the fields where they're putting all the manure and the fields could be anywhere basically now that they say that they're selling all the manure to someone else, you don't know where the fields are.
You know, so they would never know where to test.
And the same thing now with this H2Ohio program that Governor DeWine came up with, there are a lot of good things with that.
But one thing is they're paying landowners $60 an acre to put manure on their fields to try to get it further away from the operation, but all of that is proprietary.
We have no public disclosure.
- No one knows where that is or how much or when, or anything like that.
- So, Ohio EPA did not take into consideration at all where they're putting the manure on the fields and, you know, all of the fields in Wood County are tiled.
So, you know, you put the manure on the fields and there's cracks in the field, or there's worm holes in the field, it's gonna go out through the tile and nobody's keeping track of that.
There's no oversight whatsoever.
- And one of the other things that I was looking through some of the documents, it talks about the fact in that Wood County was for a long time was an oil center.
And there are all kinds of wells all over Wood County, and especially down around the Cygnet area, that was at one time, I think as you may have mentioned, and other people have one of the largest, if not the largest oil producing areas for a time.
[Vickie] It was.
[Steve] And around the county, around northwest Ohio, wherever that was going on, there's still a lot of these wells that are either properly taken care of or maybe as far as we know, somehow addressed, but maybe not to the standard that you would like to see in terms of capping and all of that.
A lot of those that appear fall within some of these areas that are seeing a large amount of this distribution of manure to put it in a nice way.
- That's right there were 41 of them in the field where they were supposed to put the one north of Cygnet.
One of them, my husband's a surveyor, one of them would've been right in the middle of the 24 million gallon manure pit.
- [Steve] Hmm, wow.
- And they're not taking into consideration at all where they're putting the manure on the fields.
[Steve] Yeah, because I noticed when I was looking through the document too, it talked about the ways they talk about, in essence, sort of as you said, moving this away from the site and what constitutes an actual transfer of manure to someone else or doesn't.
And if you read that, you came way more confused than you were before you thought you understood it.
And I guess, and that's part and parcel of this whole process from the year 2000, there have been a lot of, I guess, cul-de-sacs and dead ends and loops that take you places you think you're getting to some definitive answer and it turns out well, you're more confused by the time you get there than what you thought.
So we've got just a few minutes here.
What happens now, where do we stand at this point?
Obviously we've this lawsuit that was decided by Judge Carr seemed to put some teeth or some direction into this process.
What happens next?
- Well, that's all supposed to be done as I understand it by June 30th.
There's, but you know, like I said, when we went to the meeting on the last draft of the TMDL, there was nothing in there about CAFOs, about manure application fields.
There was nothing in there.
So, I mean, I can only hope that they are.
- When that document, whatever comes out on June 30th includes that, but there's a possibility that it may not get addressed there again.
- Yes, and it, you know, basically there's more and more CAFOs all the time.
They're still approving permits for more CAFOs.
I mean, they're dumping millions of gallons of milk, but they're still approving more dairy CAFOs mostly, mostly hog CAFOs in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
But, you know, it's just, they say 90, the Ohio EPA says 90% of the pollution in the Western Lake Erie basin is due to agriculture.
Well, farmers are so much more efficient at putting fertilizer on because they have GPS and all of that, and fertilizer is expensive.
- [Steve] Right, right.
- Although, you know, the cows and the chickens and the pigs are, they have waste every single day.
So they have to do something with that all the time.
And it's like there's no public disclosure, so we can't keep track of what they're doing.
- Yeah, so we may be able to oversee the actual, what we would consider traditional fertilizer, the phosphorous and the nitrogens and those sort of things.
But this, which is a source of that, those same sort of chemicals and elements, doesn't seem to have that kind of oversight compared to if, I'm a farmer and I'm, spreading phosphorus or nitrogen on my field, that's managed, that's controlled, I have a plan for that.
This other material that we're talking about, this manure doesn't seem to have that level of detail for whatever reason.
- And fertilizer sales have gone down every single year for like the last 15 years.
- [Steve] Hmm, interesting.
- Because they're so much more efficient now.
- We're managing it, that part of it.
But at the same time, there's this sort of grayer area that is, we don't, as you said, we don't know a lot of it's all proprietary in some ways, - [Vickie] Exactly.
- Well, Vickie Askins from Lake Eire Advocates, thank you for being here.
We'll continue to follow this and keep us up to speed on what's going on, because obviously the lake has to be managed better and there are a lot of efforts in a lot of different directions to do that.
But it seems sometimes we're fighting each other in the process, we're working against us.
Sometimes it appears as this goes through.
So thank you again for being here.
You can check us out at wbgu.org.
You can watch us every Thursday night on WBGU PBS at 8:00 PM We'll see you again next time, goodnight and good luck.