The Fargo Forum's Patrick Springer reports in Minnesota DNR rejects environmental review for irrigation wells:
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources decided Friday not to carry out an environmental review of two permits affecting about 195 acres of former forestland that R.D. Offutt Co. plans to convert to potato fields.
R.D. Offutt Co., based here, planned extensive conversion of forestland into cropland in Cass, Hubbard, Becker and Wadena counties in northwest Minnesota. Initially the company had sought groundwater appropriation permits for 54 wells to irrigate farm fields.
The large proposal prompted concerns from environmental groups led by the Toxic Tater Coalition that last fall petitioned the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to conduct an environmental review of five remaining groundwater permit applications.
R.D. Offutt since has further pared its permit applications and now is seeking approval for two wells covering 195 acres in the vicinity of Park Rapids in Hubbard County and Huntersville in Wadena County.
"We believe at that scale there is limited environmental effects to both water quality and quantity," said Barb Naramore, deputy DNR commissioner. . . .
Representatives of R.D. Offutt Co. and Toxic Taters Coalition have been meeting with DNR officials in recent weeks to try to resolve the concerns.
"We are pleased to arrive at a mutually agreeable and fair outcome," Keith McGovern, R.D. Offutt Co.'s chief executive officer said in a statement. "We will continue to work with MDNR and other state and local agencies as responsible members of the agricultural community."
Amy Mondloch, coordinator of Toxic Taters Coalition, said the group is considering filing an appeal of Friday's DNR action, but hasn't yet decided.
"We're obviously disappointed," she said, adding that the 195-acre footprint of the pending permit applications misses the point.
Read the rest of Springer's article at the Forum. The Toxic Taters Coalition issued a statement about the decision on Saturday:
On Friday afternoon, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rejected a petition by central Minnesota residents for an environmental assessment on RD Offutt’s proposed expansion into the Pineland Sands Aquifer. The day before DNR issued its decision, RD Offutt (RDO) withdrew two of its remaining four applications for irrigation permits in the Pineland Sands, reducing the company’s request for irrigation permits from 54 requests to three. (One permit has already been issued; two applications are still pending DNR approval.)
“This is definitely a victory,” said Amy Mondloch, coordinator of Toxic Taters. “A year ago RDO was looking for 54 permits and an expansion of thousands of acres. Right now they’ve gotten one permit and are seeking two more. We’ve got more work to do. We still believe an environmental assessment is the right tool to use and we’re concerned that RDO has been clearly working to avoid public oversight.”
Lex Horan, organizer with Pesticide Action Network, said, “RDO seems to be doing everything in its power to avoid an environmental assessment of its expansion, even though the company claimed last year that it would be happy to cooperate in an environmental review. RDO celebrates its agricultural practices at every turn. Why are they so intent on dodging the public process?”
In the wake of DNR’s decision, Toxic Taters and allied groups are considering all their options, including appealing the decision. RDO has reduced its permit requests, but because of the company’s recent land acquisitions and the original 54 permits that the company requested, local residents remain concerned that RDO still intends to clearcut more pine forests in the Pineland Sands to plant potatoes. Petitioning organizations and local residents will continue to call for transparency and public accountability from RDO and its buyers, including McDonald’s.
“Back in April, McDonald’s, one of RDO’s largest buyers, made a commitment to help stop deforestation worldwide. We’re asking that they live up to that commitment here in Minnesota. We want to be clear, our forests are worth more than french fries,” said Mondloch.
We'll continue monitoring the issue.
Following the money
The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has not yet updated its searchable database of individual and lobbyist contributions in 2015, so it's not easy to update our posts about the RDO family's political contributions.
Last February, we examined contributions through 2014 in Hot potato politics: Offutt family members gave Representative Denny McNamara campaign cash and No small potatoes: Dept of Natural Resources requires EAW for pinelands to spud fields project.
Representative McNamara chairs the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee. Although he does not accept contributions from lobbyists, he does accept large contributions from corporate executives and upper management. Bluestem examined these contributions in Of the loners at the Center for Responsive Politics & McNamara's campaign finance fables. The Center for Responsive Politics notes that in scrutinizing federal campaign giving:
CRP is the only organization that invests in categorizing campaign contributions by industry in a way that includes individuals' contributions, not just money from political action committees. Here's the logic behind our methodology: Since corporations and other organizations are prohibited from making political contributions from their treasuries, one must look at the contributions from people associated with the institution to gauge its political persuasion and how it might be trying to exert influence . . .We know that not every contribution is made with the donor’s economic or professional interests in mind, nor do we assert that every donor considers their employer’s interests when they make a contribution. But our research over more than 20 years shows enough of a correlation between individuals’ contributions and their employers’ political interests that we feel comfortable with our methodology. We have also observed that the donors who give more than $200, and especially those who contribute at the maximum levels, are more commonly top executives in their companies, not lower-level employees.
Like the Federal Election Commission, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board requires contributors whose donations are large enough to be itemized to disclose their employer and occupation "which suggests the government is concerned about individuals' economic, or industrial, interests."
Photo: A jack pine forest, via DNR.
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