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Thursday, December 20th, 2012

12 farm operations in violation of new pollution rule

By Nancy Allen
The state has issued violations against 12 Grand Lake Watershed farming operations for missing Monday's deadline to have nutrient management plans completed.
All farms in the watershed responsible for producing, applying or receiving in excess of 350 tons and/or 100,000 gallons of manure on an annual basis are required to have the plans as part of new manure rules designed to combat toxic blue-green algae blooms in Grand Lake.
Notice of violation letters were sent Tuesday to Carl Borger, St. Henry; Eugene Brackman, Maria Stein; Tim Schwieterman of Clover Four Inc. and CT Farms LLC, Celina; Douglas Franck, St. Henry; Jeffrey Heitkamp, Minster; David Homan, New Bremen; Gary Homan, St. Henry; Bill Siefring of Siefring Farms LLC, Fort Recovery; Bill Stachler of Stachler Farms Inc., St. Henry; Arnold Walterbusch, Coldwater; and James Wuebker, Maria Stein.
The identical letters give the farms until Dec. 31 to have nutrient management plans completed.
Bethany McCorkle, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said farmers will be given time to respond to the letters as outlined in Ohio Administrative Code.
"If we do not have completed corrective action plans by the (notice of violation) deadline of Dec. 31, chief's orders will be issued after the first of the year," McCorkle said.
A chief's order advises a remedy in a specified amount of time and violating it is a first-degree misdemeanor. Noncompliance with a chief's order could result in a case being referred to the Ohio Attorney General's Office and then a local court for prosecution. Cases also may be referred to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to force farms to follow the same rules as a state-permitted facility, said Karl Gebhardt, chief of ODNR's division of soil and water resources.
McCorkle said overall the state is pleased with the work farmers have done so far. There are 156 livestock operations representing 270 farms in the lake watershed.
"For the most part, farmers are willing to work with us and do their part to help prevent manure runoff," McCorkle said. "We have seen a lot of cooperation from farmers, especially in the last couple weeks, and we are hopeful that more and more plans will be completed."
A nutrient management plan is a formal document that tells farmers how to best manage their manure so it does not run off and cause pollution in waterways.
The 13,500-acre lake's algae is fed mostly by phosphorous found in manure, which runs off farmland, the largest land use in the watershed.
When officials first began a push a few years ago to have farmers get the plans, just 25 percent of the 46,000 crop acres in the watershed were covered by the plans. To date, 85 percent are covered.
The new rules were created after the state on Jan. 18, 2011, designated the watershed distressed after humans and animals were sickened by algae toxins in the lake. The recreational lake has been under state-issued water advisories the past four summers due to unsafe algae toxin levels and millions in tourism dollars have been lost.  
"Our goal and mission is to get these folks in compliance with the rules," Terry Mescher, a state agricultural engineer helping watershed farmers, said. "If that requires our assistance, we will be offering that assistance."
Farmers have had almost two years to complete nutrient management plans.
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