WARREN, Ill. — Nov. 15, the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) announced a proposed settlement agreement between the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Traditions megadairy owner/investor, A.J. Bos of Bakersfield, Calif.
According to the terms of the settlement, Bos will abandon the site in Jo Daviess County, where the Traditions facility was being constructed.
Workers are already land-applying the remaining liquids contained in the partially-constructed manure ponds and digester pit to prepare the land for sale.
Danielle Diamond, attorney for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water and executive director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, said: “Stopping this dangerous project would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of HOMES and their supporters. Never before in my work in Illinois and across the country have I witnessed a community succeeding in halting the construction of an industrial livestock production facility after groundbreaking.”
This unprecedented achievement effectively ends a five-year, multi-million dollar battle between Bos and Jo Daviess County family farmers and residents, who were determined to evict the gigantic animal factory to protect their clean drinking water, clean air and way of life. The megadairy operation was sited atop fragile karst bedrock, which could allow countless tons of waste and liquid manure to contaminate groundwater.
Lured to Illinois with the promise of quick administrative approval by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) of his two industrial-sized 5,500-head facilities, Bos soon discovered the assurances of a “done deal” that were made to him by livestock development groups, dairy agri-business leaders, the engineers that designed the facility and politicians were not true.
Feb. 11, 2008, the Jo Daviess County Board voted 11-5 to deny a permit to both facilities. They based their decision on the testimony of experts, including the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), who warned of the likelihood of groundwater contamination as a result of the 200 million gallons of manure that would be generated annually and stored onsite in waste ponds lined with nothing more than 2 feet of compacted soil.
Even though the local county board voted against the project, Bos was assured by supporters that his industrial megadairy facilities would be allowed by the IDOA. Despite the objections of the elected representatives of Jo Daviess County citizens, Bos proceeded with the $9 million deal to acquire the land.
The IDOA permitted one of the facilities against the recommendation issued by the county board, which was based on warnings by many experts who testified to the water contamination risks and the other negative impacts the project would inevitably have on the area. The IDOA issued a construction permit for the Traditions South site May 30, 2008.
Four days later, the environmental group HOMES, composed of farmers and other land owners living near the proposed facility sites, filed a lawsuit to stop construction. At the start of the trial to determine if a temporary injunction would be issued, the presiding judge warned Bos that any construction would be done at his own risk. Despite this warning, Bos proceeded with construction from June through Oct. 20, 2008, when the temporary injunction was granted.
In September of 2008, despite the ongoing trial and lack of multiple permits, including one from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) that was required before Traditions could finish construction, Bos piled up 26,000 tons of corn silage, worth an estimated $1.2 million, on a slab at the megadairy.
Earlier that year, residents living around the facility began monitoring streams coming off the megadairy site. Before construction began, all of the streams ran clear. But once Bos broke ground, his construction crews started to fill the streams with silt in blatant violation of state regulations. The public filed multiple complaints with the Illinois EPA and the U.S. EPA.
In November of 2008, citizens urged the U.S. EPA to formally investigate the facility to determine if it needed a permit to discharge its livestock wastes into nearby state waters. A few months later, the U.S. EPA responded by taking action against the facility, demanding detailed site and waste management information.
In February 2009, the megadairy began illegally discharging acidic leachate generated by its tons of fermenting silage. Residents submitted photographs and lab results, thoroughly documenting this discharge and several subsequent discharges, to regulatory authorities.
In early 2010, the community demonstrated its unrelenting commitment to the environment by submitting nearly 100 letters to the Illinois EPA protesting the issuance of a permit that would have allowed one of the facility’s two 14-acre waste containment ponds to be built on top of a spring-fed tributary to the pristine Apple River.
After more than a year of receiving incomplete answers from Traditions’ lawyers, the U.S. EPA, backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, made its final demand on Traditions to conduct a hydrogeology study to determine if the facility would contaminate surface waters by discharging from its waste ponds into the sensitive underlying karst aquifer.
Oct. 1, 2010, the largest documented discharge occurred when a tributary to the Apple River turned bright purple because of over-application of silage leachate. This final environmental offense led the Illinois Attorney General to file charges against the megadairy that resulted in the negotiated settlement announced by the IPCB Nov. 15, 2012.
In the end, the megadairy never even completed the dye-tracing tests ordered by the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice, to determine the sensitivity of the aquifer at the site. Nor did the megadairy ever receive the required permit from the Illinois EPA to build one of its two 14-acre waste ponds over a stream. The facility discharged at least four times and was prosecuted by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office — all before a single cow was even brought onsite.
Bos’s agreement to abandon the site after investing millions of dollars in legal fees and construction costs is the culmination of a five-year battle by concerned land owners fighting to protect their precious water resources and the quality of life of neighboring family farmers and residents.
The people of Jo Daviess County and HOMES have expressed great gratitude to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. EPA, the ISGS, the Illinois EPA, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), and all of its supporters in Illinois and beyond.
Local citizens plan to continue to closely monitor the site to ensure the proper closure of the waste ponds, and have pledged to continue to advocate for sound environmental farming practices and sustainable agriculture in Jo Daviess County.
For more about HOMES, visit StopTheMegaDairy.org.
From the Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2012, issue