Settlement reached in lawsuit against west Michigan animal feeding operation accused of pollution

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

State officials on Wednesday announced a settlement in a lawsuit against a concentrated animal feeding operation in west Michigan they accused of environmental pollution and failing to comply with permitting requirements.

The suit against Slater Farms LLC, also listed in court records as Slater Custom Farming and Slater Farms 88th, was filed in September 2020.

It alleged mismanagement of animal waste, including causing nitrogen, phosphorus and E. coli to pollute the White River watershed, threatening the state "with serious environmental and public health harms," the Michigan Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

The lawsuit stemmed from failed adherence to an administrative settlement with Slater Farms, which in 2012 was found to be operating a concentrated animal feeding operation without a permit and then "continuously violated it by improperly managing the vast amounts of animal waste produced by its feeding operations," according to the release.

Slater Farms, which works in Newaygo and Muskegon counties, owns and manages animal feeding operations of more than 1,500 mature dairy cows and 400 cattle, the Attorney General's Office reported. State authorities claimed that annually produces about 8.9 million gallons of liquid waste and 1,500 tons of solid waste.

The entity has denied violating laws or that their operations caused pollution, court records show.

Reached Wednesday, Aaron Phelps, an attorney representing Slater Farms, said his client had not contaminated or polluted waterways and the case followed state regulators seeking facility improvements.

"The farm agreed to do that, and in fact, had already done it by the time the attorney general filed the lawsuit," he said. "... The only issue in this case was the timing in which the farm completed the physical improvements to their dairy farm."

Phelps said Slater Farms is committed to safe environmental practices and passed an inspection by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy last year.

The settlement does not mean Slater Farms admits to violations of laws or regulations, according to the filing signed Tuesday.

It calls for Slater to pay a $120,000 penalty as well as accept additional oversight and permit conditions related to waste storage, management and disposal.

Half the penalty will be waived if there are no violations for one permit year, according to the document.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the deal "includes clear accountability for actions that puts one of Michigan’s most precious resources at risk. It is long past time CAFOs like Slater Farms start adhering to additional oversight and permit measures instead of using our clean water as their own personal sewer. The future of our environment depends on it.” 

Liesl Clark, director of the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, said the settlement would help protect Michigan’s water resources.  

“We’re always willing to help Michigan residents and companies comply with laws that protect public health and natural resources,” Clark said. “But neither EGLE nor our attorney general are going to stand idly by while those laws are repeatedly ignored.”