Hein pulls plug on Catalpa Ag hog project in Mabel’s “Karst Country”

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MABEL, Minn. (KTTC) — The hog producer who wanted permits for a large farrowing operation in Newburg Township near Mabel has decided not to pursue it.

Al Hein’s decision comes after an outpouring of opposition, what he says is a sense of worsening business conditions, and the denial of a general permit for the project by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Hog manure from the Catalpa Ag operation would have been spread on area farm fields in Newburg Township to fertilize crops

“I don’t think the time is right for it,” Hein told KTTC.  “The farmers in this area are tightly supportive of me, but it’s not right to rip the community apart.”

Hein said he took a fresh look at things and changed his mind.  For one thing, he said, “farmers around here know things are going off the rails.”  He senses a downturn ahead in the economy.  And then, there’s all the anger about his plans for pork production.

At community meetings last year, hundreds of people turned out to speak out against Hein’s Catalpa Ag project, which would have featured 4,800 farrowing sows, with the hog manure spread on area farm fields to replenish the soil for crops.

Hein said he believes that a large number of people who turned out were not from the Mabel community, so in that sense, the hearings did not really represent the community’s feelings about the project.

Crowds turned out to oppose Hein’s plans at meetings at the Mabel Community Center

It was both the prospect of the smell of the hog operation and the potential impact of the animal waste on groundwater supplies that raised the ire of some area residents.

The previous commissioner of the MPCA had ruled against Catalpa Ag in its bid for a general permit for the project, but indicated the agency would entertain an individual permit application.

The MPCA was also on the verge of launching an environmental study of groundwater in the “Karst” limestone geography of the area, in light of the fears of groundwater pollution by environmental groups.  Nearly 800 people had submitted written comments on the Catalpa project with MPCA.  Now those concerns will be shelved without any action taken on them.

“Two things I would like to see happen–I would like to see the groundwater survey completed first before I would ever reconsider,” said Hein.  “I would like to see agriculture absolved from any blame for groundwater pollution.”

Hein said the second thing would be to get beyond the severe recession that agriculture is currently in, that economic conditions brighten before reviving the plan for the farrowing houses.

Noel Sederstrom

Noel Sederstrom

Noel Sederstrom joined the KTTC-TV staff as News Director in February, 2008. He's a native Minnesotan, having grown up on a farm near Litchfield, and also spending a lot of time on Lake Vermilion near Tower-Soudan, where his grandfather Gust Saari worked in the Soudan Underground Mine. After studying journalism at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, Noel worked as a reporter, anchor, producer and Executive Producer at television stations in Duluth, Little Rock, Buffalo, Louisville and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Noel was the News Director at WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo for seven of his 18 years at the CBS affiliate before returning to Minnesota. He and his wife Cindy have two grown children and make their home in Rochester. Email Noel at nsederstrom@kttc.com

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