HASTINGS, Minn. — At the Hastings Creamery, Monday was the day to work out a Plan B, after the Metropolitan Council cut off the company’s connection to the city sewer system.
The regional agency took that action at midnight, in response to repeated violations of the company's industrial wastewater permit. The plant, built in 1955, processes 150,000 pounds of raw milk daily for a variety of dairy products for the creamery's own label and other companies.
Justin Malone, a third-generation dairy farmer and co-owner of the creamery, spent the day talking to technicians from the Met Council. They came to check out the viability of the workaround plan for the wastewater produced by the dairy processing plant.
Pumps had been placed on all the floor drains with blue hoses running to a reservoir tank outside the building. If all goes according to plan the wastewater will be pumped from that reservoir into tanker trucks to be sent to plants that are equipped to handle it.
Late Monday, Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen met privately with Malone, Hastings city leaders, state lawmakers, and farmers who stand to be impacted if the plant can't stay in operation.
After the meeting, the Met Council issued the following statement:
"The Met Council and MN Department of Agriculture met with the owners of the Hastings Creamery today to discuss resources needed to support the Creamery and the farmers that depend on this business while long-term solutions are being made. We support this collaborative process and are pleased with the progress being made."
One of those who drove to Hastings for the meeting was Emily Tweeten, a fifth-generation dairy farmer in Winona County. She's one of 45 farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin who sell their raw milk to the creamery.
"If this went down, we would have to sell our cows. We would be done with our business," Tweten said.
She said the Hastings Creamery is one of the few options available to dairy farmers in the region.
"This week many of the processors are telling the farmers we have no more room for your milk, you’re gonna have to dump it, you’re going to have to find another creamery," Tweten explained.
"We spent the last three weeks trying to find an alternative route for our milk and it just does not exist. This isn't just about our farm. It's about the entire economy of a rural community."
In the past six months, the Met Council cited the creamery for six wastewater violations. The agency was alarmed by a major tank leak on Mother’s Day weekend that sent thousands of gallons of milk and/or cream into the local wastewater treatment plant.
The staff said a repeat of that event could cripple the Hastings Wastewater Treatment Plant, which would create a sanitation crisis in that Mississippi River town 30 miles southeast of Minneapolis.
Malone said he and three other farmers bought the plant two years ago, unaware that it wasn't capable of meeting the 2013 standard for the number of fats, oils, and grease -- FOGs -- in the wastewater.
The leak was an exceptional event, according to Malone. He said typically what goes to the sewer system is water mixed with the milk and cream that is flushed out of the machinery when switching between different dairy products or cleaning the lines.
The company has been working with a consultant who recommended a pre-treatment plant be built on site, that could keep the wastewater output in compliance with the rule that limits fat, grease, and oil to less than 100 milligrams per liter.
Malone was told it would cost more than $900,000 to build and install that system. The Met Council order, issued Thursday evening, listed a set of conditions the plant needs to meet in order to be reconnected to the city sewer lines.
The Metropolitan Council is a regional planning, development, and transportation agency that operates the sewage treatment system for much of the Twin Cities region. The Hastings wastewater plant is one of the plants operated by the Met Council
The state legislature created the agency in 1967. All 17 members of the council are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Minnesota Senate.
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