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July 12, 2010

Court Orders Monroe Branstad to Pay $17,000 Penalty for Environmental Violations

Monroe Branstad of rural Forest City in north-central Iowa has been ordered to pay $17,000 in civil penalties for environmental violations, including water pollution resulting from a sweet-corn silage runoff that entered the Winnebago River from his large cattle-feeding operation.

Hancock County District Court Judge Colleen D. Weiland entered a decree Tuesday afternoon ordering the civil penalties and prohibiting further violations. The Order resolved a lawsuit also filed Tuesday by the Attorney General’s Office. [Go to Court Order. Go to AG’s lawsuit petition.]

The Court’s “Consent Order, Judgment and Decree,” which was agreed-to by Branstad and the State, indicates that Branstad “admits that on August 28-29, 2008, sweet-corn silage leachate, a pollutant, discharged from a containment basin on his farm operation into the Winnebago River.” Branstad stated in the decree that “any violations were unintentional.”

Branstad also denied that the admitted discharges caused the death of fish in the Winnebago River and said he “reserves the right to contest any claim for damages” brought by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for fish killed.

DNR officials estimated at the time that thousands of fish were killed along a 16-mile stretch of the Winnebago River. The DNR will bring administrative proceedings seeking restitution for fish killed in the pollution incident.

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More background and information:

At the time of the August 2008 violations, Branstad’s operation had approximately 900 head of cattle in open lots and 200 head in confinement buildings, according to the lawsuit. The operation is located a few miles south of Forest City.

The lawsuit alleged the water pollution incident resulted in a large fish kill in the Winnebago River, a designated “high quality water” of the state.

The lawsuit petition recounts how the August 2008 water pollution event was discovered and investigated. On the evening of August 28, a local resident notified a DNR fisheries biologist that numerous dead fish could be seen downstream on the Winnebago River in Cerro Gordo County. DNR officials began investigating the next day, moving upstream toward Forest City.

DNR officials observed dead fish and took field tests at numerous locations, including Dogwood Avenue bridge, Kuhn Wildlife Area, Apple Avenue bridge, Torkelson Pits Wildlife Area, Gabrielson State Wildlife Management Area, and the Taylor Avenue bridge crossing. DNR officials moved further upstream to Silver Creek, a tributary of the Winnebago, and then to an unnamed tributary of Silver Creek, to a tile outfall discharging into the unnamed tributary, and to the Branstad cattle operation.

Branstad had constructed a silage runoff containment basin. When Branstad arrived at the site, DNR officials explained the fish kill and investigation. According to the lawsuit, Branstad “stated that if the source was corn silage it was likely from his operation.”

DNR officials instructed Branstad to dig a trench around the silage runoff containment basin to search for and cut any tile. Branstad did cut a tile in the tile search, and silage leachate runoff poured out. Samples of the leachate taken from the broken tile indicated “extremely high concentrations” of biochemical oxygen demand, carbonaceous oxygen demand, total suspended solids, and ammonia nitrogen. The cut tile line connected to the tile line that discharged into the unnamed tributary of Silver Creek and ultimately into the Winnebago River, the lawsuit petition alleged.

The suit also alleged that Branstad had failed to pay a $4,500 administrative penalty assessed in March 2007 in a separate matter for solid waste and open burning violations. Judge Weiland ordered Branstad to pay the $4,500 plus $2,295 interest, and to pay $10,205 for the August 2008 water pollution violations, for a total penalty now of $17,000.


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