Court drops appeals to DNR decisions in R.D. Offutt irrigation, well applications

Potato producer R.D. Offutt has voluntarily reduced the number of water or irrigation permits for its operations mostly in the Park Rapids area in northern Minnesota.

Potato producer R.D. Offutt has voluntarily reduced the number of water or irrigation permits for its operations mostly in the Park Rapids area in northern Minnesota.

Because of the move, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday supported the Fargo-based company by dismissing their appeals against a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources requirement that they file extra environmental reports.

With fewer irrigation permit requests, the DNR will no longer require Environmental Assessment Worksheet documents.

The decision, however, isn't what an organization called Toxic Taters Coalition wanted.

On Feb. 5, the DNR decided to require the company to complete the environmental statements on multiple well or irrigation applications, involving potential land for raising irrigated potatoes and other crops.


RDO then appealed that decision.

On April 7, RDO voluntarily withdrew all but 18 of 57 applications, mostly in the Park Rapids area. The withdrawn applications included 32 preliminary well assessment requests and seven more advanced water appropriation permit applications.

On May 12, the DNR filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, in light of the withdrawn applications.

Some applications are on full 130-acre irrigation pivots and others are on as few as 60-acre half-pivots. All but one of the applications had to do with Potlatch Co. land, which grows pine trees for timber production but is selling some of its land in Minnesota, including to RDO and the Minnesota DNR.

RDO lawyer Paul J. Noah said the company withdrew the applications because of changes in DNR policies and procedures, and because many of them were speculative on land the company didn't have under contract. He said many of those parcels would have been rejected for potato production based on other criteria, not involved with water permits.

"We are pleased with this order," Noah said. "We'll continue to work with the DNR to find a balanced resolution."

Amy Mondloch, a coordinator for Toxic Taters Coalition, said her organization is "deeply concerned that RDO wasn't willing to go through an environmental assessment process."

She said the company has "not been willing to tell us what chemicals they use on the fields, chemicals that go into our air and water."


Mondloch said her group hoped the DNR would go forward with "a new request for an environmental assessment."

Noah declined comment on Mondloch's statement, except to note that the court based its decision on the DNR decision to withdraw the environmental reports, and not an RDO action.

Randall Doneen, head of the environmental review unit for the DNR's Conservation Assistance and Regulations section, was not immediately available for comment.

RDO and affiliates is the largest potato grower in the United States, operating farms in seven states.

In excess of 50,000 acres of potatoes are grown annually for frozen processing and fresh markets at 11 processing facilities in four states, with sales to both retail and food service markets.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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