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LAKE VILLAGE — The Hoosier Environmental Council says a company proposing a large-scale organic dairy has made misleading statements about its plans.

It says if the dairy farm is approved, it likely will consistently contaminate surface water and groundwater that feeds the wells nearby residents use for cooking and drinking.

The nonprofit, which is representing residents opposed to the proposal, asked the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to deny Natural Prairie Dairy's application for a confined animal feeding operation if the technology the company says it will use to process manure "is not proven and available for use at this time."

"Failure to do so will make IDEM complicit in NPD's effort to mislead the public and present its CAFO as something other than what it is asking IDEM to permit — effectively 'greenwashing' its proposal with IDEM's stamp of approval," the Hoosier Environmental Council said in comments submitted to IDEM.

IDEM is still considering the application. 

In a letter Tuesday, IDEM told Natural Prairie Dairy it must revise its groundwater monitoring plan for the proposed dairy on a 2,500-acres at 4500 W. County Road 400 North. The company has 30 days to respond, IDEM said.

The farm is near several of the area's remaining natural areas, including The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands property and Willow Slough Indiana Fish and Wildlife Area.

Natural Prairie Dairy submitted an air permit application Oct. 17 related to the technology it says it will use, records show.

"The application describes a process that would take high-liquid manure through a boiler to remove the water to produce a solid manure material," IDEM said.

"We are still working with the company to acquire more information so we can determined what level of permit they might need."

Family says it trusts IDEM

The De Jong family, owners of the Texas-based dairy company, have proposed a confined animal feeding operation housing 4,250 dairy cows and 100 dairy calves, according the permit application.

When asked to respond to the Hoosier Environmental Council's comments, Newton County farm manager Will De Jong issued the following statement: 

"We trust that IDEM and its expert staff will continue to conduct an extensive, rigorous review of our 273-page application for our family organic dairy. Of course, we will answer any questions or provide any additional information that IDEM may require to make a final decision. Until such time, we think it improper to comment."

The De Jongs' farm sits in the bed of the former Beaver Lake, which was drained from 1871 to 1880 as the Beaver Lake ditch was constructed. The ditch feeds into the Kankakee River.

In its comments, Hoosier Environmental Council said Natural Prairie Dairy's permit application lacks key information about how it will comply with federal regulations requiring certified organic dairies to graze cows for not less than 120 days per calendar year. 

The nonprofit called on IDEM to conduct a more thorough wetland investigation. A report prepared for the company does not rule out that there are wetlands on parts of the company's property, the nonprofit said.

HEC says disclosure violations possible

Hoosier Environmental Council also said it appears Natural Prairie Dairy may have failed to comply with state law requiring the De Jongs to disclose all "responsible parties," or business interests.

HEC also urged IDEM to investigate the company's sworn statements, which indicated none of the responsible parties the family disclosed in its application have violated state or federal environmental law. 

The nonprofit said a Google search shows the De Jongs own more businesses than disclosed, and that "dairyman Willy De Jong" may have been sued in Texas as part of a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit.

"These discrepancies require a hard look by IDEM," the nonprofit said.

"An out-of-state company should not be allowed to form a shell company in Indiana to hide its regulatory background, especially when that out-of-state company is proposing to build a massive CAFO in one of the most sensitive environmental areas of Indiana."

The comment period on the permit closed Nov. 15, but IDEM has said it will continue to consider comments until a final decision is made.


Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.