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Published March 18, 2010, 07:00 AM

Massive dairy planned northeast of Edgeley

An $80 million dairy operation could start construction later this summer if permits from the state’s health department and water commission can be secured.

By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun

EDGELEY, N.D. — An $80 million dairy operation could start construction later this summer if permits from the state’s health department and water commission can be secured.

A public meeting was held Tuesday in Edgeley concerning the proposed operation slated for north of Berlin and northeast of Edgeley.

According to Ralph Friebel, president of Frontier Dairy, the operation would milk 10,000 cows at any time with another 2,000 dry cows and 16,000 heifers on the premises. Output from the operation would average 800,000 pounds of milk per day.

“We looked at a lot of sizes for the dairy,” Friebel said. “We started with 2,000 cows and worked our way up to 15,000 or 20,000. We decided on 10,000 because if we went any bigger than that we have to travel too far to get feed for the cattle.”

The operation will create about 100 full-time jobs with a total payroll of more than $3 million per year. Friebel said it was likely some of the jobs would be filled by people from outside the United States. This was one of the points of contention with the estimated 150 people in attendance.

“We will list jobs locally,” Friebel said. “We will list the jobs in dairy industry publications in the United States but it is likely we will still need to hire some people from the overseas market. I’d love it if we could fill all the jobs locally but that is unlikely.”

A law firm from Minneapolis with offices in Mexico has been retained, he said.

Questions from the audience centered on the effects an influx of non-English speaking children would have on the city’s schools and whether the jobs would pay enough so workers would not end up on government support programs.

Friebel said the lowest-paying jobs at the dairy would pay about $30,000 per year and offer benefits.

Rick Diegel, superintendent of Edgeley Public School, said the district had previously taught students where English was not their primary language.

“We can’t control what their parents speak or what they learned earlier,” he said. “But our classes are taught in English and we work with them to learn the language.”

None of the audience members identified themselves while raising questions. Others would not identify themselves when asked for further comments after the meeting.

Friebel said the operation will contract with local farmers for about 9,000 acres of corn chopped for silage. That corn will be chopped over a two-week period each fall and piled on a 25-acre asphalt slab outdoors. That slab is only part of the big pieces of infrastructure needed for a 10,000-cow milking operation.

“There are two cow barns each 550 feet by 1,500 feet,” he said. “The two heifer barns are 360 feet by 1,500 feet. The two milking parlors are each 100-cow rotating parlors with a combined capacity of milking 1,500 cows per hour.”

Friebel also raised the concern of housing for 100 new workers and their families. He hoped real estate developers would invest in housing and rental units at the same time the dairy was under construction.

Another concern voiced by the public dealt with the smell from the manure.

“The operation includes a methane digester,” Friebel said. “All the manure and most other wastes go into these pits and methane gas and carbon dioxide is gathered. The methane will be sold as natural gas or used to generate electricity, which will be sold on the grid.”

The methane digesters are part of the operation owned in conjunction with Great River Energy, Friebel said. The solids from the digester are dried and used for bedding within the farm or pressed into briquettes sold to power companies to burn with coal. The liquid waste will be spread out over about 4,000 acres of farm land.

Neither the liquid waste nor the solids from the digester will produce any odor, Friebel said.

While the public attending the meeting voiced many concerns, local job development officials said they felt the meeting was important.

“We needed to get this information out,” said Gene Hanson, chairman of the Edgeley Development Board. “The reluctance was expected but getting factual information out helps. We’re satisfied. The people who needed to hear this were here.”

Frontier Dairy needs two permits before construction can begin.

Royce Cline, hydrologist with the North Dakota Water Commission, said an aquifer test had been requested to determine the effect the 1 million gallons per day of water needed at the dairy would have on surrounding wells.

“Our major concern is domestic wells in the area,” Cline said.

Karl Rockeman, environmental engineer for the North Dakota Health Department, said the department was looking at how the facility would store and manage manure and make sure it had enough available land to spread liquid waste.

Both departments are waiting for the ground to dry before performing tests at the site.

Once testing is complete, the Health Department will take 60 to 90 days to process the permit. This will include a 30-day public comment period and a public hearing.

Friebel said the earliest permits could be issued was mid-summer. He hoped the 12- to 15-month construction process would begin immediately thereafter.

Friebel said financing has been arranged with about $30 million in equity investments from individual investors, about $35 million in tax-free bonds and $15 million in conventional commercial debt.

“The IRS allows tax-exempt bonds because of the methane digester,” he said. “The cost of that and related parts of the barns comes to about $35 million so we can finance that through commercial banks as tax-exempt bonds.”

Friebel also said the dairy is to be the first of a series of six such operations planned around North Dakota. His long-term goal is to take the milk and process it into powdered milk, which doesn’t have the perishable nature of liquid milk.

“We could process it into powdered milk in North Dakota to ship anywhere in the world,” he said.

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by e-mail at

knorman@jamestownsun.com

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