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Ramona Dairy Has New Owner: Rick Millner Coming to Lake County?

Last updated on 2011.06.08

Funny how things come together.

Swier dairy, Ramona, SD, now owned by Lake County Dairy LLC
Swier dairy, Ramona, SD, now owned by Lake County Dairy LLC

Floyd Swier's dairy up by Ramona went out of business recently. It was purchased at the beginning of May for $1,505,000 by Lake County Dairy LLC. Don't be fooled by the name: It's not a local outfit. According to Lake County Dairy's articles of organization (filed with the Secretary of State on April 14, 2011), the initial designated office of the company is 215 1st Avenue, Gary, SD.

215 1st Avenue, Gary, SD, is also the business mailing address listed for Wayne Viessman, partner in Vista Family Dairies, LLC. That new company was part of Richard Millner's failed attempt to reorganize his two giant dairies in Veblen. I have reported frequently on Richard Millner's polluting dairies, bad business dealings, and bankruptcies. Viessman has been a business partner of Millner's (Dairy Dozen, Vantage Cattle Company, Veblen West Dairy), as well as a co-defendant in a lawsuit concerning the Veblen dairies.

Lake County Dairy lists as its registered agent attorney Jill R. Radloff of Minneapolis. The articles of organization were filed at the request of paralegal Gail E. Partlow of Minneapolis. Both women work for Leonard Street and Deinard, which has represented Millner, Viessman, and the other equity owners in the Veblen dairies.

Swier's dairy was a beneficiary of the EB-5 investor program, with two Korean investors providing one million dollars to get the dairy going. The same program, promoted by the state of South Dakota, recruited 27 Korean investors to pump $13.5 million into Millner's Veblen dairy operation. Both dairies appear to have created enough jobs to before going under to allow the Korean investors to keep their green cards.

Backhoe at Swier dairy site, apparently amid clearing old buildings
Backhoe on Swier dairy site, apparently amid demolition of old structures

Swier's dairy had a Class C Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Permit. That permit allows 500 to 999 animal units, which translates into 357 to 700 head of mature dairy cattle. That permit remains in effect: as far as Lake County is concerned, the new owners of the Ramona dairy can bring up to 700 head of dairy cattle onto the premises and start milking whenever they please. They may still have to obtain the usual manure discharge permit from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

There don't appear to be any cattle on the dairy yet; locals report some demolition activity as workers clear some old buildings.

Swier dairy apartment building, Ramona
Swier dairy apartment building, Ramona

Lake County Dairy acquired the 320-acre dairy and its farmhouse as well as Swier's apartment building on 4th Street in Ramona. (Yes, wiseguy, Ramona has that many streets.) Under Swier's ownership, that building housed mostly foreign dairy workers. (Seems fair: build with foreign investments, hire foreign workers.) Up in Veblen, Millner also bought up housing to rent to his immigrant (and occasionally illegal) workforce.

No documents that have come across my desk have put Richard Millner's name on the Ramona dairy. That's fortunate for the Ramona dairy, since the DENR declared last fall that it would not issue a manure permit to the Veblen dairies if Millner was a decision-maker with any responsibility for permit compliance.

Standing water on former Swier dairy, Ramona, SD. This water eventually flows through Madison.
Standing water on former Swier dairy. This water eventually flows through Madison.

However, the connections between Millner and Lake County Dairy LLC raise a familiar smell. Millner and his associates have raised bad stinks in their past operations. The Ramona dairy sits at the north edge of my watershed. Runoff from the southern half of Section 35, Badus Township, where the dairy sits, runs south to Madison, then on to Lake Madison and the lower Big Sioux River. In 2009, concerned citizens at Big Stone Lake traced brown pollution flowing into their lake 45 miles back upstream to the Veblen dairies.

Richard Millner has been cited for environmental and permit violations at the Veblen dairies and nearly every other dairy he's touched. If there is any chance he is involved with this dairy purchase in Lake County, my neighbors and local officials need to pay close attention the Ramona dairy's resumed operations.


  1. Charlie Johnson 2011.06.01

    The Family Farm Act of 1974 would have prevented a non-family corporation from owning the dairy. Amendment E would have also. The legislature in their "infinite wisdom" passed legislation exempting dairy along with swine from the Family Farm Act. Notice the company name ends with the letters(LLC)-limited liablity corporation. This artficial operating structure will allow the owners to have protection from liability for any of their personal assets or any other investments they may have. In real terms, if the dairy pollutes or causes damage beyond the value of the dairy site itself(polluted dairy doesn't have much value), satisfaction for any remedy to injured parties will be little or non-existent. Interested parties for years have tried to require bonding on any major ag projects. This has met with stiff resisitance from the governor's office, legislature, commodity groups, and Farm Bureau. You can have all the permits you want but you will not have personal responsiblity associated with this operation. If something happens, the owner living off site will occur little or no suffering to health or wealth but the environment of Lake County and the watershed down to the Sioux River is ar risk.

  2. Douglas Wiken 2011.06.01

    The court destruction of the SD Family Farm Act was one of the stranger most tortured court decisions I think I have seen.

  3. Charlie Johnson 2011.06.01

    The Family Farm Act still stands---Amendment E passed in 1998 was struck down. Yes, it was a strange ruling. There was dirty inside politics involved even with the court system. Judge Kormann made a very bad ruling citing utilities could not acquire land for power lines. Not withstanding that he was a lobbyist for the utility industry for many years prior to serving on the federal bench.

  4. joelie hicks 2011.06.02

    Didn't the legislature act to change the law because of Millner and Veblen? It seems I have an article somewhere where he claimed that the Veblen dairy would make the area more wealthy than the 3M and two other large companies combined.
    Up here in Grant County our failed lawsuits show us the need to be able to bring zoning ordinances to a vote. The supreme court would have a hard time declaring the right to vote unconstitutional. It would be good to get such an issue on the 2012 ballot.

  5. Sandra Banish 2011.06.02

    I am one of the several hundreds of creditors of Veblen East and Veblen West Dairies in South Dakota that are still owed money from the dairies which we will never receive due to the discharging of the debts due to the Bankruptcy Laws of South Dakota. The great vision of one person caused a financial disaster in my community, I hope it won't repeat itself again in the Ramona,SD Community.

  6. Roger Quick 2011.10.02

    I understood Millner was prohibited from owning or managing dairies in SD???

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.10.03

    That's true, Roger. DENR told his partners last November that Millner could not be an owner or decision-maker in the Veblen dairies. That prohibition sunk Millner's effort to win the dairies back from bankruptcy.

    Now Ramona has standing permits for a Class C CAFO, limited to 700 head of dairy cattle. When Millner tries to expand, he'll have to apply for new permits. DENR may have something to say about that. Lake County residents concerned about clean water can only hope so.

  8. Jim 2012.01.26

    There is still tie to bring our boy to justice. Events are still under investigation.
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