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Controversial large-scale dairy proposal back on the table in Newton County

A Google map image shows the 2,500-acre farm at 4500 W. County Road 400 North in Newton County where Texas-based Natural Prairie Dairy has proposed a new 4,350-cow operation. A number of residents have opposed the plan, saying it could pollute the water in their wells, adversely affect their property values and hamper efforts to draw in more tourists to nearby public lands.

LAKE VILLAGE — The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has approved a permit for a controversial large-scale organic dairy some Newton County residents feared could contaminate their wells and affect property values.

Natural Prairie Dairy began hiring and construction after the permit was granted Jan. 10, said Will De Jong, the organic dairy manager.

The Hoosier Environmental Council and the grassroots organization Protect Our Kankakee River Basin had strongly opposed the dairy plan.

The Natural Prairie Dairy property sits entirely in the bed of the former Beaver Lake, which was once the largest natural lake in Indiana, according to a technical review prepared for the Hoosier Environmental Council. The site is also adjacent to The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands natural area.

Residents fear polluted water from the dairy could flow into the Kankakee River via two ditches and pollute the groundwater that feeds the private wells from which they draw water for drinking, cooking and bathing. They also worry the smell and flies associated with a large dairy operation could adversely affect their property values.

Hoosier Environmental Council and residents accused Natural Prairie Dairy of making misleading statements about its plans to use innovative technology to process manure from 4,350 cows. They asked IDEM to evaluate the dairy's claims regarding its use of technology.

IDEM said Natural Prairie Dairy's plans met existing requirements without any manure processing.

"Therefore, any manure processing technology is unnecessary to meet required storage capacity and does not need to be proven to be granted approval," IDEM said.

In a response to comments on the dairy's plan, IDEM said it has authority only to regulate confined animal feeding operations based on water quality concerns. Concerns about odors, property values, property zoning classification and road use should be addressed by county or other local permitting agencies.

De Jong thanked IDEM and said he appreciated residents.

"For almost a year, we have been attending and hosting community meetings, listening to our neighbors, and based upon valuable feedback, we improved our plans," De Jong said. "Our family wants to thank the impartial environmental experts at IDEM for their extensive, rigorous review of our 273-page permit application. In addition, we want to express our appreciation to those in the community who have supported us and those who had concerns.”

Anyone with questions can call De Jong at 219-401-0274 or visit http://www.OrganicFarm.Land.

Kim Ferraro, senior staff attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council, said it was disappointing IDEM would approve a confined feeding operation of this scale and magnitude in such an environmentally sensitive location.

"The decision is nothing less than irresponsible and poses an unnecessary and serious risk to human health, the environment, wildlife habitat and quality of life for people who live nearby," Ferraro said. "HEC will continue to stand with Newton County residents in their fight to stop this ill-conceived project."

She said Hoosiers statewide who care about protecting the Kankakee River Basin should urge their state lawmakers to support House Bill 1378, which would give IDEM meaningful authority to regulate confined animal feeding operations and "prevent such irresponsible siting of CAFOs from happening again."

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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.