Area farmer responds to ;br; manure spill charges

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 18, 1999

Leon Holst expressed "shock and dismay," when he read he has been charged in Mower County Third Judicial District Court for a manure runoff that killed fish.

Thursday, November 18, 1999

Leon Holst expressed "shock and dismay," when he read he has been charged in Mower County Third Judicial District Court for a manure runoff that killed fish.

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"I was extremely dismayed to learn that 15 months after Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency published a press release which falsely claimed that I had applied 130,000 gallons of liquid manure to property adjacent to a creek, I am now faced with a criminal complaint from the Mower County Attorney," Holst said.

On Oct. 28, a complaint was filed alleging the Dexter area farmer committed one gross misdemeanor and two misdemeanor crimes. The allegations stem from the discovery of a fish kill in Dexter Creek discovered Aug. 5, 1998 in Section 35 of Sargeant Township.

Holst also alleges the city of Dexter dumped sewage into the same stream he is accused of contaminating without penalty.

According to previously published accounts of the incident supplied by Mower County and state of Minnesota sources, Holst originally spread livestock manure over fields along the creek, during a rainy period. Mower County environmental health services and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency investigators went to Holst’s farm and located one of the sites of the manure runoff into the creek.

Later, Holst complied with the investigators orders to plow the field, thereby injecting the remaining manure into the ground to prevent further runoff.

Holst, in a lengthy press release, offers an explanation for his actions.

"While it is tempting to me to set forth all the facts to counter the negative publicity that has resulted from this complaint, my attorney, Tom Baudler, refuses to wage this battle in the news media," Holst said. "Instead, l would merely like to reiterate some of the facts, which we sent to the various news organizations in August of 1998."

"I am accused of allowing manure to run into a creek, causing a fish kill. Initially on Aug. 6, 1998, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued a ‘news release,’ which stated that I applied an estimated 130,000 gallons of manure on approximately 10 acres adjacent to a tributary of Root River.

"The Austin Daily Herald reported on Sunday, Aug. 16, 1998 that we applied an estimated 132,480 gallons of manure on 4.6 acres. Both were false statements and I immediately informed the agencies involved that 40,000 gallons of manure was applied to 15 acres of land," the livestock producer alleged.

"The current complaint against me now alleges that I spread between 45,000 and 48,000 gallons of liquid manure in a field next to the creek."

Despite the complaint summons charging Holst with the three violations being filed Oct. 28, Holst maintains he "read about them in the paper" and has not received a copy of the complaint.

"I was quite shocked to read of this matter in the paper on Saturday, Nov. 13, 1999, as I had not received a copy of the complaint, when I first read of it in the paper," he said. "In fact, I had to stop by the County Attorney’s office on Nov. 15, 1999, to pick up a copy of the complaint so I could see what I was being charged with."

The Austin Daily Herald attempted to contact Holst for a response Friday, Nov. 12 and invited him to respond, but received none before the story was published two days later.

Holst claimed his reputation has been damaged by the failure to receive a copy of the complaint before its publication.

"Once again, the news media knew about me being charged before I did. These allegations and false statements have ruined my reputation, put me out of business and caused a great deal of undue pain and stress on my family," he said.

He also maintains that he exercised appropriate manure management practices, when he applied manure in the summer of 1998.

"Prior to spreading any manure, I obtained soil samples on the land to which manure would be applied. The results of tests done by B&L Agronomics, showed that from 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of manure per acre could safely be applied to the land," he said. "This was done to prepare the field to be planted to alfalfa. I applied approximately 2,700 gallons per acre, well within the safe and acceptable Agronomic rates as determined by the prior soil and manure analysis."

He also accuses the city of Dexter of possibly dumping sewage into the creek.

"I learned later that the City of Dexter had discharged 1.2 million gallons of untreated sewage directly into the very same stream between July 29 and August 5 (1998). When I brought this to the attention of the Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources, they merely claimed that this had nothing to do with the fish kill. Although they stated they would investigate, they have never supplied me with any evidence to substantiate this claim," he said.

But, the city of Dexter obtained the necessary permits from Mower County and the MPCA to dump sewage before that was done. According to Dexter Mayor Randy Stephenson, "We had all the permits we needed from the necessary agencies to dump and that was done five or six days before Mr. Holst is alleged to have spread manure over his fields."

"There was no fish kill in the creek after the city dumped sewage until Mr. Holst spread the manure that washed into the creek and the fish kill occurred," Stephenson said.

If Holst is found guilty, the maximum fines that could be assessed, $25,000 a day for not reporting water pollution (a gross misdemeanor) would amount to the largest fine levied by the district court for a pollution incident.

Several years ago, a rural Elkton farmer was found guilty of dumping pesticide and herbicide chemicals into a machine shop drain that spread into a nearby creek. He was fined $13,000 for that incident.

Holst is also accused of a misdemeanor crime of failure to notify and avoid water pollution, a maximum fine of $700 and another misdemeanor for not having a feedlot permit. The latter also carries a $700 fine.

No trial date has been scheduled on the case and Holst continues to maintain his innocence.

"I have always practiced responsible manure management. I am confident that after all the evidence is in, a jury will agree," Holst concluded.