Concerns raised over construction of cattle feedlot and biogas operation

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Construction is currently underway on a 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation along Highway 18, east of Monona. The DNR has yet to issue a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the project, and area residents are concerned discharge could harm the Bloody Run Creek Watershed. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Area residents are concerned about how a 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation currently under construction east of Monona could impact the Bloody Run Creek Watershed.

Walz Energy began grading the roughly 50-acre site at 22578 Highway 18 several months ago. Now, construction is underway on six open front cattle barns, to go with an additional barn already in existence, as well as a feed storage area, concrete transfer pits and an earthen liquid manure storage lagoon with a capacity of nearly 39 million gallons.

Also included on the site will be four tanks for anaerobic digestion and methane production for scrubbed biogas.

The manure from the 10,000 cattle at the site will be captured and, with the help of the anaerobic digesters, combined with waste feed products to produce natural gas.

“We will be producing renewable natural gas,” explained chief operating officer Jon Haman. “It will be used for transportation fuel, which will reduce dependence on foreign oil.”

 Although growing in popularity around the country, the practice is relatively new in Iowa, Haman said.

“We’re getting into it early,” he noted, “but it’s a proven technology.”

Area residents are worried that construction has continued even though the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has yet to issue a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

“There’s a draft of a permit, but it hasn’t been issued,” said Larry Stone, a member of the Clayton County Conservation Awareness Network.

The DNR will hold a public meeting at Elkader City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 4 to 6 p.m., to discuss the Walz Energy facility individual stormwater permit for soil-disturbing activities during construction.

Stone said he and other county residents requested a public hearing, but it was denied.

“With the size and scale of this, and the fact that it’s been going on for months, it’s not been said why it’s happening without more public input and a permit in place,” he said.

At the heart of Stone’s and other residents’ concerns is the impact stormwater discharge from the site could have on the Bloody Run Creek Watershed, particularly Bloody Run Creek itself.

Bloody Run Creek is a coldwater stream. Deemed an “Outstanding Iowa Water,” it’s often used by locals and visitors alike for recreation, particularly trout fishing.

“It’s heavily used. Spook Cave is also in the watershed,” Stone said.

Discharge could have a potential effect on ground water, as well, he noted.

“This is a karst area with fractured limestone,” he detailed. “Things from the surface can and do get into the groundwater.”

Haman said Walz Energy has worked to assure that doesn’t happen, digging several basins, under DNR direction, to capture water before it leaves the site.

Hundreds of thousands of feet of silt fence have also been employed for the site, Haman said. Many areas have been seeded down, including additional buffer strips and waterways that were not there before construction.

If the permit is issued, Haman said the Walz Energy site should be operational by next spring. They plan to employ around 18 full-time people, with the hopes of growing. Feed will be purchased locally, he added.

“It’s important for people to know that we want to give the local economy a boost as well,” he said. “We will be custom feeding for other small producers around the state.”

Once operation begins, Haman said cattle manure and feed waste will be 100 percent contained, with all manure going directly to the anaerobic digesters. 

What’s left after the natural gas is collected can be used for fertilizer. It breaks down considerably faster than conventional manure, Haman said, and plants will use the nitrates more quickly.

“We’re all about sustainability,” he stated, adding that he welcomes people to attend the meeting next week to learn more about the operation.

Stone remains skeptical.

“On the surface, it sounds good,” he said, “but, to me, there are too many possibilities for things to go wrong. It just doesn’t seem to be the place to put this kind of operation.”

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