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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DENR to Vista: No Veblen Dairy Permits with Millner in Charge

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources may be about to put one man out of business... permanently.

Richard Millner has managed the giant Veblen West and Veblen East feedlots in northeastern South Dakota for the last couple years. He has also managed dairy operations in North Dakota and Minnesota. His operations have spent most of this year in bankruptcy. His permit to operate Excel Dairy, his confined animal feeding operation near Thief River Falls, Minnesota, was revoked by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency due to air quality violations so serious that the state advised neighbors of the dairy to evacuate their homes. Last April, the MPCA denied Millner a permit to resume operations at Excel Dairy.

Millner has been battling mightily to cobble together some creative financial plan to reorganize his two Veblen dairies. But operating a dairy with thousands of cows discharging tons of waste each day requires more than capital. It requires a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Millner violated the conditions of his permits for both Veblen West and Veblen East in 2009. I checked with DENR and learned that Veblen East met the October 15 deadline for complying with DENR's cleanup order, but that Veblen West did not.

DENR appears to have had enough. In a November 10, 2010, letter, DENR tells Jorden Hill, agent for the "new" company formed by Millner and his partners, that if Millner is involved in any way with management of the reorganized Veblen dairies, they will get no manure permit:

According to legal documentation received from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, an NPDES permit issued to Rick Millner for Excel Dairy was revoked by the State of Minnesota because of environmental violations. South Dakota Codified Law 1-40-27 states that an applicant or any officer, director, partner, or resident general manager of a facility for which application has been made is unsuited or unqualified to perform the obligations of a permit holder if the applicant has had any permit revoked under the environmental law of any state or the United States. Therefore, Rick Millner at no point in form or substance can be an applicant, an officer, a director, or resident general manager of Vista Family Dairies and Veblen East Dairy. Rick Millner cannot be the decision maker responsible for compliance with the general permit. The organization chart and the duties and responsibilities of all officers, directors, and managers must reflect this [Jeanne Goodman, Administrator, Surface Water Quality Program, South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, letter to Jorden Hill, agent, Vista Family Dairies, 2010.11.10; as reproduced in Case 10-10071, Document 474, In re: Veblen West Dairy LLP, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of South Dakota, filed 2010.11.12].

The emphasis is in the original. When bureaucrats put things in bold, they mean it.

Millner had a permit revoked in Minnesota. SDCL 1-40-27, a nice little "bad actor" statute, makes the revocation grounds for DENR to deny Millner any environmental permit. As long as DENR believes Millner is the driving force behind the investors trying to retake control of the bankrupt Veblen dairies (and since he signed the disclosure/reorganization plan, that seems logical), DENR can withhold that permit.

Wow. Between DENR and the Department of Revenue, Millner may finally have met his match in South Dakota.
Read an amended version of the court motion containing the DENR letter cited above.


  1. Wow. This is big I never would have guessed that the South Dakota DENR would ever come down this hard on an operator. Maybe there is hope.

  2. Sandra Banish11/16/2010 7:28 AM

    I want to encourage everyone to write to your governor,politicians and the media about the financial disaster that is taking place at the dairies in Veblen, South Dakota. Let our voice become loud enough to make a difference.


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