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Zumbrota farm operation racks up $90,000 in fines

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ZUMBROTA – One Zumbrota business has caused quite a stink — literally.

Since May, the Dairy Farmers of America in Zumbrota has racked up over $90,000 in fines from the city for waste water violations.

Neil Jensen, the city administrator, said Dairy Farmers of America has been exceeding its limit of BODs, which stands for biochemical oxygen demand. It's a measure of the strength of waste products in the water a farm is washing into the sewer system. The limit is part of the permit Dairy Farmers of America obtained from the city.

"They have been having an awful lot of violations in the past few months," Jensen said, adding that it can impact municipal services.

"When they violate the permit, it's awfully hard on our waste water treatment plant," said Zumbroa City Council member Dale Hinderaker.

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Dairy Farmers of America Plant Manager Lucy Schwartz said the farm is working on fixing the problem.

"DFA is committed to operating in a responsible, sustainable way, and is dedicated to being a good corporate citizen," she said in a statement. "We take our responsibility to protect our natural resources and be good environmental stewards seriously. We are working with Zumbrota city officials to resolve these issues and remain a vital part of the city's economy and community."

Dairy Farmers of America is not the only one with a permit, though. The city of Zumbrota also has a permit from the state of Minnesota. When the Dairy Farmers of America exceeds its limit too often, the city has to pick up the slack and manage the BOD levels. But if the city isn't able, it can also get in trouble.

"When they start doing that day after day, or have a really strong day, they also violate our permit (with the state)," Jensen said, adding that means the state fines the city.

But damage and fines are not the only consequences. Excessive BODs also create a foul smell that sometimes permeates the town.

"When it continues to happen, it's frustrating for (city residents)," Hinderaker said about the smell.

Glenn Wallace, the Dairy Farmers of America chief operating officer, in the Ingredients Division, said in a statement the company is working closely with the Zumbrota branch to find a solution.

"Throughout our nationwide network of 33 facilities, we provide active support at the national level to each plant in maintaining sound environmental practices," he said.

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This isn't the first time Dairy Farmers of America has violated its permit. In 2009, the company was fined for excessive BODs.

Since then, though, there hasn't been a large problem until now.

"They were good for quite awhile, and I don't know what happened," Jensen said.

In 2009, the city council voted to increased the fine from $1.50 per unit to $3 per unit. In response to the recent violations, the council voted again to up the fine to $4.50 per unit.

"Hopefully, they get their system in order," Jensen said.

If the problem is not resolved, Jensen said it's up to the city council to decide what to do next.

"They're going to do what it takes to get them into compliance," he said.

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