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Clay County working to fix feedlot inspection deficiencies, restore full state funding for program

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has given Clay County a list of requirements to address shortcomings in its feedlot inspection program.

Cows stare at the camera near a feeding trough
Cattle gather at a feeding trough. Photo taken February 2010 near Edgeley, N.D.
Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service file photo
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MOORHEAD — Clay County is being required to redo seven feedlot inspections as part of efforts to resolve deficiencies in the program cited in reviews by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Clay County officials were notified in April that the county had failed to comply with certain requirements, including proper reporting of feedlot inspections, a responsibility that the county took over from the MPCA 15 years ago.

Michelle Oie, and environmental specialist with the MPCA’s watershed division, wrote the county in a letter dated May 9 spelling out requirements to ensure that the feedlot inspection program is in compliance.

The requirements include redoing the seven inspections it performed last year to ensure “adequate documentation of the observations are properly recorded.” The redone inspections will be in addition to the routine inspections the feedlot program is required to complete this year.

Dan Olson, a spokesman for the MPCA, said on Thursday, May 12, that reviews of Clay County’s feedlot inspection program in 2020 and 2021 indicated the program was "not meeting expectations in terms of documenting/reporting of inspections being done as well as certain other minimum program requirements.”

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Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell said the county believes the proper inspections were performed, but sometimes the inspector was unable to properly report the inspections because of a new, complicated reporting system.

Any deficiencies the MPCA found with the inspection program could stem from “the inadequacy of the response” to an online survey, he said.

“At no point did they suggest that the quality of his inspections was poor,” Campbell said, referring to the meeting with MPCA to address the problems.

Earlier, MPCA officials had informed the county that the state planned to withhold $3,000 in state funding because of the deficiencies. After the May 3 meeting, however, county officials were told the funding could be restored by addressing the problems, Campbell said.

The MPCA is reconsidering the financial penalty, Olson said. The MPCA is asking the county to make some improvements in the feedlot inspection program this year, with help and guidance from the agency.

“An important part of that will be more regular check-ins with MPCA staff to ensure the county has the information and resources it needs to adequately complete its feedlot work,” he said.

County officials believe they are on a path to take corrective action, and said their meeting with the MPCA went well.

“It was all very cordial,” Campbell said.

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Since the county took over inspections, officials no longer get complaints about feedlots and the program has established an excellent track record, he said.

Before the county took over inspections, the MPCA lacked adequate staffing to routinely perform the inspections, resulting in complaints, he said. “There was constant complaining throughout the county regarding feedlot issues,” Campbell said.

Clay County has 89 feedlots, down from a high of 115 to 120 at one time, Campbell said.

The feedlot inspection program is carried out by the Clay County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Once Clay County receives official notification from the MPCA that the reporting problem has been resolved, the county will formally rescind its appeal of the penalty, Campbell said. The commission voted 5-0 at its April 19 meeting to file the appeal, hoping to prompt a dialogue with the state that would resolve the reporting problem.

“The fieldwork has been done,” Kevin Kassenborg, manager of the Soil and Water District told commissioners April 19. “The paperwork is what we’re finding has some deficiencies.”

Commissioner Jenny Mongeau said Clay County’s reporting problems with the new MPCA system were not unique. “There’s several other counties that are in the same boat as us,” she said April 19. “It seems to be a technicality piece.”

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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