Settlement reached in lawsuit with local dairies

Local dairy owners and the environmental groups that sued them avoided going to trial Monday by settling the case.

A trial was scheduled to begin yesterday in a case alleging the dairies violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The suit was brought in February 2013 by Lower Valley-based CARE (Community Association for Restoration of the Environment) and the Center for Food Safety based in Washington D.C.

It claimed the Liberty-Bosma, Cow Palace, D&A, R.M. Haak & Sons and George DeRuyter and Sons dairies mishandled manure, contaminating water supplies in the Lower Yakima Valley.

The Haak Dairy settled with the plaintiffs in February 2014.

“I think we achieved a reasonable balance between the plaintiffs’ concerns and the dairies’ right to run an efficient and competitive business,” said Brendan Monahan, attorney for the defendants.

The consent decrees reached yesterday with the dairies don’t become final and binding until a judge signs them.

Under terms of the settlement, the dairies will provide clean drinking water to a large number of residents with polluted water.

The dairies as part of the deal will change their operations in ways intended to stop future contamination.

Those changes include alleviating and removing pools of water that may form in cow pens and install concrete aprons along all water troughs.

Further, the dairies pledge to fund installation of 14 new monitoring wells.

“We settled in order to get immediate help to the people directly in harm’s way,” said CARE co-founder and President Helen Reddout.

“We want people to know that it is not safe to drink nitrate-contaminated water, and to contact the Yakima County Department of Health about contaminated wells so we can make sure they get safe drinking water.”

As part of the agreement the dairies will also install double liners in all manure lagoons to stop leakage, limit manure applications to crop fields and make other operational changes.

They will also be subject to additional groundwater monitoring and be responsible for providing clean water to area residents until the contamination is eliminated.

Charlie Tebbutt, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the settlement is a “stepping stone” for state and federal agencies “…toward providing permanent solutions for protecting human health and the environment from an industry that is causing severe pollution nationwide.”

As part of the settlement, the dairies will pay Tebbutt’s office $300,000 to cover legal fees and costs associated with the lawsuit.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will oversee terms of the settlement.

Speaking of the EPA, Monahan said in large part the consent decree adopted voluntary measures the dairies had already agreed to with the federal agency.

“It’s fair to say that these dairies recognized an irreversible trend across all segments of agricultural towards sustainable farming practices,” Monahan said. “They also have seen a developing consumer preference for businesses that place a premium on environmental responsibility.”

The dairies admit no wrongdoing under terms of the consent decrees.


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