Last updated on 2011.06.08
Funny how things come together.
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.
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.
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.
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.