PORTLAND — Wastewater problems at a controversial Oregon dairy have persisted despite a federal trustee taking control of the operation last month, state farm regulators said during a hearing Friday.
Lost Valley Farm of Boardman, Ore., has repeatedly run into trouble with the Oregon Department of Agriculture since the facility began operating last year.
The financial problems of its owner, Greg te Velde, led him to file for bankruptcy protection to prevent creditors from auctioning off the dairy’s herd to make money available for debt repayment.
On Sept. 13, a bankruptcy judge ordered a U.S. trustee, Randy Sugarman, to take control of the dairy due to te Velde’s spending company money on gambling and otherwise failing to properly account for funds and loans.
The change in operators occurred shortly before te Velde faced a court-ordered Oct. 5 deadline to begin bringing the facility into regulatory compliance with wastewater rules.
Nina Englander, an attorney representing ODA in legal proceedings against te Velde, said in a circuit court hearing Friday she recognized the transition in operators explains some of the continued problems at the dairy but the state government wants to avoid future lapses.
Notably, wastewater recently overtopped one manure lagoon at the facility while the wind sprayed wastewater from another one, she said.
A pipe on the property was also found by ODA inspectors to be “spewing liquid manure” when the facility was being flushed, Englander said.
“I offer that as an example of the systemic problems going on,” she said.
The dairy must empty enough wastewater from its lagoons to make 75 acre-feet of storage capacity available by Nov. 13.
However, there were recently only 26 acre-feet of capacity in the lagoons, down from 47 acre-feet in August, Englander said.
Elizabeth Howard, an attorney representing the dairy operator, said that despite the setbacks, the facility had made “substantial progress” in meeting a remedies order issued by Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Skye. The judge issued that order in August when te Velde was found to be in contempt of court for violating an earlier settlement deal with ODA.
The dairy has completed the switch to using recycled water — which is intended to reduce its generation of wastewater — and plans to soon begin applying manure from the lagoons to about 1,500 acres once the current crops are harvested, Howard said.
The manure application is contingent on soil tests and approval from ODA to ensure the field’s nutrients remain at a level that can agronomically be absorbed by crops.
Emptying the lagoons will be necessary to install the steel gauges required by the court’s remedies order, she said.
The dairy had also hit a “bump in the road” regarding the installation of water flow meters at the facility because it was difficult to figure out the exact sources of water and where it flowed, Howard said.
A water dye test that “turned it green and blue” has resolved that issue and flow meters will likely be installed within about a month, she said.
The facility expects to have a digital weather station installed by Nov. 13 and a new manager — Joel Edmonds, a dairy nutrient and management consultant — was recently hired to run the dairy, Howard said.
Getting the dairy into regulatory compliance is the top priority of the federal trustee, Randy Sugarman, she said.
“We’re going to do what needs to be done, period,” said Sugarman, who is a longtime certified public accountant with experience in agriculture.
Howard said the trustee does not plan to challenge whether the court-ordered remedies sanction for te Velde applies to him even though it’s “a gray area of the law.”