Local organizations and neighbors ask EPA to intervene on Walz Energy project

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A letter initiated by the Clayton County Conservation Awareness Network seeks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s intervention to determine whether the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ after-the-fact issuance of an NPDES permit to Walz Energy violates the Clean Water Act.

About 40 individuals and groups have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to more closely monitor the potential impacts of the Walz Energy commercial feedlot and biogas manufacturing operation being developed in the watershed of Bloody Run Creek, east of Monona. The location of the project is in an environmentally sensitive karst area, with known sinkholes nearby. Bloody Run Creek is a popular trout stream and an officially designated Outstanding Iowa Water, which merits special protection under Iowa and EPA regulations.

A letter initiated by the Clayton County Conservation Awareness Network (CCCAN) questioned the ability of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to oversee the construction of the 10,000-head cattle facility. DNR officials waited until Jan. 12 to issue a construction permit, even though work at the site has been ongoing since March 2017. 

According to the letter, that was despite IDNR and EPA requirements that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit was needed to assure construction does not cause soil runoff or other pollution.

The letter cited two notices of violation issued by the DNR, including one on June 20. Referencing a June report from the DNR, the letter said, “construction was allowed to continue, even though 20 acres of the site had been disturbed and Walz had not implemented all the required storm water controls of Iowa’s storm water general permit #2.” Another notice of violation was issued on Oct. 24, for an unauthorized discharge of sediment-laden storm water to Bloody Run Creek.

On Sept. 29, the IDNR’s Wastewater Engineering-Industrial Section issued a construction permit for a 38.96 million-gallon wastewater anaerobic lagoon at the Walz site. “Ironically, that permit clearly states that ‘no construction activities shall be initiated unless an Iowa NPDES General Permit No. 2 for storm water associated with construction activities is obtained from the department if the site disturbance equals to or exceeds one acre,’” noted the letter.

The letter goes on to state: “It seems clear that the IDNR has not followed its own guidelines for requiring NPDES permits before construction, or for enforcing violations of the permit requirements. That lack of IDNR action is in direct conflict with the department’s responsibility to protect the waters of the state, and specifically the Outstanding Iowa Water, Bloody Run Creek.”

IDNR had earlier declined requests for a hearing on the permit, but later relented and held a hearing on Nov. 29, in Elkader. About 100 people attended, with a majority raising questions and concerns about the location and size of the industrial operation.  

In addition to Clayton County CAN, the letter was co-signed by a number of northeast Iowa residents and neighbors of the Walz Energy project, two state legislators and spokespersons for the Iowa Environmental Council, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center.

“We would ask the EPA’s intervention to determine whether the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ after-the-fact issuance of the NPDES permit violates the Clean Water Act, including federal storm water regulations and anti-degradation requirements,” the letter reads. “We further ask that IDNR and EPA prohibit Walz Energy from beginning operation of the facility unless or until measures are in place to protect the waters of the state of Iowa, including the watershed of Bloody Run Creek, an Outstanding Iowa Water. In addition, we would expect the IDNR’s and the EPA’s protections to include the region’s groundwater and aquifers, which are made especially vulnerable because of the karst topography of the site.”

To read the full text of the letter, visit ClaytonCountyCAN.com.

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