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One of the latest of Pipestone System's sow farms is called Jackrabbit Farm near Mitchell, S.D. Photo courtesy Pipestone System

Spirit Lake Tribe taking a stand against large hog farm near Devils Lake, ND

FARGO — The Spirit Lake Tribe is opposed to a proposed factory hog farm that would be built half a mile from the shore of Devils Lake and is urging state health officials to deny a permit for the project.

The tribal council voted unanimously to pass a resolution against Grand Prairie Agriculture, a proposed operation that would have up to 2,499 hogs capable of producing thousands of piglets a year.

The tribe, whose Spirit Lake Nation reservation hugs the southern shore of Devils Lake, joins other local opponents who complain that the large hog operation, which will stockpile and spread manure on neighboring farm fields as well as compost the carcasses of dead pigs, could pollute Devils Lake and nearby aquifers.

Tribal leaders and members will testify against the factory hog farm at public hearings health officials are holding Wednesday, Sept. 12, as part of their review of a permit application for the Grand Prairie Agriculture proposal.

"We took this action to hopefully get the state's attention," said Doug Yankton, the tribe's vice chairman. "The state health department never did come to my tribal government or my people to consult with us."

Water concerns

The Spirit Lake Nation is home to 5,500 tribal members for whom Devils Lake is regarded as sacred. The lake also is an important cultural and economic resource, the tribe said in its resolution, adopted Aug. 30. Members get their water from two aquifers, Spiritwood and Warwick, the tribe said are also threatened by the project.

Manure from the hogs, which health officials estimate will add up to 1.4 million gallons per year, will be stored in holding tanks year-round and applied to hundreds of acres of surrounding cropland. The tribe and other opponents fear water contamination will result if the tanks leak or from farm field runoff.

"At some point it will," despite precautionary measures, Yankton said.

Officials with the North Dakota Department of Health have reached a "tentative determination" that the proposal meets state requirements, an opinion reached after a review of the industrial hog farm's permit application and supporting documents.

"They assure that State Water Quality Standards will be protected, and the system will be constructed and can be operated in compliance with the North Dakota state requirements for storage and handling of manure and wastewater for an Animal Feeding Operation," officials wrote in their preliminary review.

"They're not considering the possible contamination of the lake and, over time, the possible contamination of our drinking water supplies," all of which are located within the drainage way of the planned hog farm, Yankton said.

The Spirit Lake Tribe has hired the Robins Kaplan law firm to explore its options in trying to prevent the hog farm from being built.

"We're hopeful that the health department will deny the permit," said Tim Purdon, a lawyer with the firm, who is based in Bismarck. "There is significant local opposition to this project."

But if health officials approve the project, Yankton said, the tribe is prepared to go to court to fight it.

"If we have to file injunctions and stuff, we're prepared," he said. The tribe's treaty rights include water rights, he added.

The hog farm, which would be built 10 miles west and 1 mile north of the city of Devils Lake, is off the reservation. "But the aftereffects of possible contamination is within the tribal boundaries," Yankton said.

Pipestone Systems, based in Pipestone, Minn., is a management consultant for the project. Pipestone Systems also is behind the Rolling Hills Family Farm, a factory hog farm proposed near Buffalo, N.D., in rural Cass County.

If you go:

The North Dakota Department of Health will conduct public hearings Wednesday, Sept. 12, for the proposed Grand Prairie Agriculture factory hog farm near Devils Lake at two locations:

• 1 p.m. at Spirit Lake Casino & Resort, 7889 Highway 57 S., St. Michael, N.D.

• 5:30 p.m. at Lake Region State College, 1801 College Drive N., Devils Lake, N.D.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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