LICA, Merz dairy farm settle law suit

Farm is located on Lake Independence

A Lake Independence dairy farm operation and the Lake Independence Citizens Association (LICA) have settled out of court a law suit revolving around manure management and its effects on water quality in the lake.

The settlement followed a court ordered mediation session that took place on April 2. Attorneys for both sides have declined to comment until after release of a joint statement.

LICA has been the plaintiff in the law suit filed against Paul J. Merz, James Merz, Paul J. Merz Trustee and Merz Farms Family LLLP. The Merz family has been operating a dairy farm located on the west side of Lake Independence at 2919 Lake Independence Road in Independence. The law suit was settled without either party admitting claims and contentions of the other party.

Terms of the settlement will result in major changes in Merz farm operations. The family agreed to end its dairy operation involving 135 cows by Dec. 31, 2013, and to convert to a smaller beef cattle operation involving 60 “animal units.” An improved manure management plan is part of the agreement. The plan calls for placing a maximum of 45 animal units on the feedlot during the summer with the remaining cattle placed on pasture. Manure on the feedlot must be sheltered from precipitation. The agreement limits winter application of manure to land and also locations on the farm where manure can be applied to land.

Soil tests will be used to determine whether the Merzs are following the manure management plan. The tests will be conducted in fall, 2017 on any fields included in the plan. LICA agreed to contribute up to $1,000 towards actual soil testing costs, and the Merzs agreed to provide LICA with a copy of the results of analysis of the soil tests.

The LICA lawsuit against the Merz farming operation is part of a larger effort to cut back on the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Independence. Phosphorus fertilizes blue green algae and other undesirable plant growth in lakes. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2002 listed Lake Independence as one of a number of Minnesota water bodies that are impaired for recreational uses. Since then cities and other agencies related to the lake have come up with a total maximum daily load (TMDL) plan that limits how much phosphorus is allowed to enter Lake Independence per day.

The phosphorus reduction plan applies to more than farming operations. Also involved are eventual closure of Loretto’s sewage treatment ponds, regulation of fertilizer applications by property owners surrounding the lake, regulation of development in the lake’s watershed, planting of rain gardens, prevention of shoreline erosion and more. A couple of years ago, the city of Independence constructed a sanitary sewer extension to the Lindgren Lane, Independence Road area located near Lake Independence. Homes in the area previously were served by septic tanks.

Unclogging of the outlet to Lake Independence is being proposed in order to reduce recent high water levels in the lake. High water has been washing against shoreline improvements that were constructed to reduce erosion of soil into the lake.