Back in early February, in our posts No small potatoes: Dept of Natural Resources requires EAW for pinelands to spud fields project and Hot potato politics: Offutt family members gave Representative Denny McNamara campaign cash, Bluestem reported on contributions from members of the family that owns R.D. Offutt Company, the international potato firm, to political campaigns by elected officials from both parties.
Potatoes are more digestible when cooked and a little grease helps.
Yesterday, the well-connected company and the Minnesota DNR announced that they had reached a deal, with the company cutting back on deforestation, while the DNR agreed to not move forward with the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW).
At the Brainerd Dispatch, Zach Kayser reports in DNR, R.D. Offutt announce deal on irrigation for crop expansion:
In a joint press conference call Thursday, DNR Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore and R.D. Offutt CEO Keith McGovern outlined how the company voluntarily withdrew all but five of its applications for new irrigation wells in the Pineland Sands area spread across Becker, Cass, Hubbard, and Wadena counties.
Naramore said instead of an EAW specifically examining R.D. Offutt, the DNR plans to undertake a broader scientific study of how land conversions would affect the Pineland Sands area. . . .
The DNR will seek funding for the study from the Legislature in 2016, Naramore said. The study is in the conceptual phase, so the preliminary $1.5 million estimated price tag may change, she said.
Nothing in the agreement prevents the company from reintroducing the withdrawn applications, but if Offutt were to introduce more well applications on top of the agreed-upon five, "there's a very real chance that we might need to look at where we were in the study, whether we had the information that we needed to make a decision" on the applications, Naramore said.
"I think the company has a good appreciation for the kind of information we need," she said.
McGovern said Offutt doesn't plan to apply for more wells or buy more developable land in the area until the results of the studies are finished. . . .
In short, while R.D. Offutt is reducing the number of plots it will convert to irrigated cropland, while the Dayton administration will seek funding for an extended scientific study of "how land conversions would affect the Pineland Sands area."
Not everyone is totally buying into the deal. At the Star Tribune, Tony Kennedy reports in R.D. Offutt's pines-to-potatoes plan is scaled back in compromise with Minnesota DNR:
Toxic Taters, a grass-roots group opposed to Offutt’s expansion in the Pineland Sands area, issued a statement saying it is wary of the company’s reduction of well permit requests “to avoid an environmental assessment.” Still, the group said it is “glad to see” the DNR’s study initiative at a time when there are many unanswered questions about land-use changes in the area.
The complete Toxic Taters statement, found here, argues:
Members of the Minnesota grassroots organization Toxic Taters expressed concern today on finding out that RD Offutt would be allowed to move forward with 5 well permits in the Pineland Sands Aquifer located in Becker, Cass, Hubbard, and Wadena counties. “We’re happy to see that the number of well permits has decreased significantly from the original 54 proposed. We’re concerned though that RDO is unwilling to do an environmental assessment and now won’t have to do one. If they aren’t damaging the environment, why not prove it with an environmental assessment?” said Toxic Taters coordinator Amy Mondloch.
To address concerns of increased crop production in the area DNR has proposed a special study of groundwater use and land use change in the Pineland Sands area.
Toxic Taters is concerned that RDO is requesting a smaller number of well permits in order to avoid an environmental assessment and will continue to add wells in upcoming years increasing their impact on the aquifer. “It’s hard to believe that RDO would just give up 39 wells without a fight. We’re glad to see that the DNR and other state agencies are being proactive with this proposed study, but there are a lot of questions to be answered yet. What role will RDO and other corporate farms have? How will area residents be involved?”
While RDO moves forward with their wells in the Pineland Sands Aquifer, Toxic Taters and allies including the international organization Pesticide Action Network will move forward with their work to get the potato grower to adopt more sustainable growing practices and cut pesticide use. Lex Horan of Pesticide Action Network had this to say "Communities are in harm’s way because of RDO's pesticide use. It's a longstanding problem that Minnesota lawmakers, state agencies, and RDO customers like McDonald's should all take very seriously. Since state decision makers have been reticent to act on RDO's pesticide problem, on October 6th Toxic Taters and Pesticide Action Network will return to McDonald's stores in a national day of action, calling on the fast food giant to cut pesticides in its potato supply chain. It's time for RDO to transition away from hazardous pesticides, not expand the footprint of those chemicals to impact even more rural communities across the state."
Here's the memorandum of understanding signed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the R.D. Offutt Corporation:
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