Lost Valley problems likely to spur dairy regulatory changes

The Lost Valley Dairy outside Boardman, Ore., has sparked legislative discussions about how large dairies are regulated in Oregon.

The wastewater problems at a controversial Oregon dairy will likely result in proposed changes to how such facilities are regulated during next year’s legislative session.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said during a Sept. 25 hearing that he’d be assembling a work group to propose legislation based on “lessons learned” from Lost Valley Farm of Boardman, Ore.

Dembrow said he wants to take steps to prevent a similar situation from happening again, referring to the large dairy’s repeated violations of wastewater rules since starting in April 2017.

So far in 2018, the dairy has been fined more than $10,000 by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which later sought to shut down the facility with a lawsuit.

That litigation was settled, but during the summer ODA filed another complaint accusing owner Greg te Velde of contempt of court for violating the agreement’s terms. The agency is also moving to revoke his “confined animal feeding operation” permit for the dairy.

A judge found te Velde in contempt and has ordered him to take remedial actions to prevent further manure lagoon overflows and other problems this winter.

Meanwhile, te Velde filed for bankruptcy to prevent a forced auction of his dairy herd, but the judge in that case has appointed a U.S. government trustee to oversee his assets, citing his spending unauthorized funds on gambling. Last week, te Velde was arrested in Hermiston, Ore., and charged with methamphetamine possession.

Alexis Taylor, ODA’s director, testified that overseeing the troubled dairy has proved expensive for the agency.

Normally, inspecting the dairy three or four times a year would have cost the ODA about $2,600 if it hadn’t run into non-compliance issues, she said.

Instead, the agency has inspected the dairy 62 times in the past year and a half. Combined with the costs of its legal actions against the company, the ODA has spent roughly $200,000 more on regulating the facility than it normally would have, Taylor said.

One idea mentioned during the recent legislative hearing would be to create a bonding requirement to compensate the agency in extraordinary circumstances, such as those associated with Lost Valley Farm.

Taylor said she would prefer to avoid the “moral hazard” of funding the agency’s operations with civil penalties, but would welcome exploring a “cost recovery” mechanism for extreme cases.

She said the ODA is also looking at the enforcement mechanisms used by other states in regulating CAFOs to see if there are other tools available to bring facilities into compliance.

Though water rights are regulated by the Oregon Water Resources Department, Dembrow also mentioned requiring CAFOs to secure water rights before beginning operations so they don’t have to rely on the “stockwater loophole.”

Providing water to livestock is exempt from water rights permitting in Oregon, which came under criticism in Lost Valley Farm’s case due to its size. It planned to have 30,000 cows.

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