Iowa DNR approves 11,600-head cattle feedlot near Monona

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has approved the nutrient management plan of an 11,600-head open cattle feedlot near Monona.

Supreme Beef, owned by Mike Walz, Dean Walz and Jared Walz, now may complete the project started in 2017 but stalled by environmental violations, opposition from neighbors and legal wrangling with two former business partners.

Environmental groups were not happy with the decision.

“If IDNR can approve this facility, which is located in sensitive karst topography, in the watershed of an Outstanding Iowa Water and important cold water trout streams, then current Iowa laws and regulations provide no protection of the public interest and exist solely to rubber stamp livestock industry interests,” Ingrid Gronstal, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said in a prepared statement.

Steve Veysey, a retired Iowa State University employee and water quality advocate, said in a March 2 public hearing the computations used in the plan to show how much liquid manure from the facility can safely be applied to farm fields were inaccurate. Opponents also said the plan called for putting manure on fields 20 miles away, which they said wasn’t realistic given the cost to transport the manure.

The DNR did seek some changes to the nutrient management plan, the agency noted in an April 2 letter sent to the company and provided to The Gazette. One field listed as accepting manure from the feedlot was removed from the plan and details for two other fields “were revised appropriately,” the DNR noted.

Wally Taylor, conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter, said he felt the DNR relied on assumptions and incomplete information in the rush to approve the plan within the 60-day limit. “Instead of rejecting the NMP, DNR is approving it, hoping everything will eventually work out,” Taylor said.

Back in 2017, when the Walzes and other earlier partners proposed the project, they said they planned to invest $30 million in the site that would include anaerobic digesters that would convert manure and food waste into natural gas. The new versions of the nutrient management plan do not call for digesters.

The change in plans has meant an operation once considered an industrial facility because of a waste-to-energy strategy became a large open feedlot, which has a different set of rules.

“This has put the DNR in the position of jerry rigging its review of the NMP,” Taylor said.

In 2018, the DNR fined the owners $10,000 — the maximum fine the agency can impose — for stormwater runoff violations.

In 2019, the Walzes sued their former business partners, Jon Haman and Heath Kellogg, saying the men lied about having secured a loan for $15 million for the project. A judge ordered Haman and Kellogg to pay the Walzes $308,309 and ordered their firm, Feeder Creek Group, dissociate with the Walzes. The groups settled in December of 2019, court records show.

Supreme Beef submitted a nutrient management plan last summer for 11,600 head of cattle, but the DNR approved the plan for only 2,700 cows.

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Iowa DNR approves 11,600-head cattle feedlot near Monona