FARGO-The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources decided Friday not to carry out an environmental review of two permits affecting about 195 acres of former forestland that R.D. Offutt Co. plans to convert to potato fields.
R.D. Offutt Co., based here, planned extensive conversion of forestland into cropland in Cass, Hubbard, Becker and Wadena counties in northwest Minnesota. Initially the company had sought groundwater appropriation permits for 54 wells to irrigate farm fields.
The large proposal prompted concerns from environmental groups led by the Toxic Tater Coalition that last fall petitioned the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to conduct an environmental review of five remaining groundwater permit applications.
R.D. Offutt since has further pared its permit applications and now is seeking approval for two wells covering 195 acres in the vicinity of Park Rapids in Hubbard County and Huntersville in Wadena County.
"We believe at that scale there is limited environmental effects to both water quality and quantity," said Barb Naramore, deputy DNR commissioner.
Also, she said, the agency has the ability to impose conditions on the water permits to protect against water quality or other environmental damage. That application process does not require the review sought by Toxic Taters Coalition, an environmental assessment worksheet.
"We do have that ongoing regulatory authority to mitigate impacts," Naramore said.
Representatives of R.D. Offutt Co. and Toxic Taters Coalition have been meeting with DNR officials in recent weeks to try to resolve the concerns.
"We are pleased to arrive at a mutually agreeable and fair outcome," Keith McGovern, R.D. Offutt Co.'s chief executive officer said in a statement. "We will continue to work with MDNR and other state and local agencies as responsible members of the agricultural community."
Amy Mondloch, coordinator of Toxic Taters Coalition, said the group is considering filing an appeal of Friday's DNR action, but hasn't yet decided.
"We're obviously disappointed," she said, adding that the 195-acre footprint of the pending permit applications misses the point.
"The concern is not solely about those few wells," Mondloch said. "The concern is about the long-term, cumulative effects. We continue to be concerned. We think there definitely is a threat to the water quality, definitely a threat to the environment."