June 26, 2023 at 1:26 p.m.

Navigating regulation

Hastings Creamery faced with wastewater permit suspension

By Hans Lammeman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HASTINGS, Minn. – In the midst of navigating low milk prices, the Hastings Creamery was thrown a hurdle in early June when industrial discharge violations led to suspended access to the Hastings Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Third-generation dairy farmer and creamery co-owner Justin Malone said the facility of Hastings typically processes 150,000 pounds of milk daily to produce milk, creams and cheeses. He and three partners purchased the 110-year-old creamery two years ago; it employs about 40 staff members and sources milk from an additional 45 farm families.
In the weeks following the suspension, Malone reported frequent 19-hour work days “trying to put fires out” and keep the creamery operating as normally as possible.
Despite restricted wastewater system access as of June 4, Malone said the facility has continued to operate fully staffed with workarounds to process a slightly less than average 130,000 pounds of milk daily. He said the creamery had not dumped any excess milk, instead partnering with other creameries to handle the surplus dairy from farmers.
Malone said he and his partners had been unaware of the creamery’s frequent industrial discharge permit violations since 2013, when they purchased the facility.
“As I was dealing with the Met Council, I kept asking about the historical (data) here – what our normal FOG (fats, oils and grease) and pH levels are for the plant,” Malone said. “With some of the documentation that I could find here from years prior, I came to the conclusion that FOGs have always been over the allotted amount in the permit here and there.”
After several recent violations, the Metropolitan Council temporarily suspended the creamery’s access to Hastings’ 68-year-old wastewater treatment plant.
“We have unfortunately recorded seven notices of violations of the industrial discharge permit for the Hastings Creamery in the past eight months,” stated a Met Council release. “As a result, effective June 4, we suspended the creamery’s ability to discharge industrial waste for treatment at the Hastings Wastewater Treatment Plant for a minimum of 30 days.”
Hastings Creamery plant operator Matt Mueller said he was not at work during a Mother’s Day weekend incident in which a leaky silo resulted in milk draining into the wastewater system.
“(The Met Council) sent us a notice saying we would be shut down at midnight on (June 4); I think we got three days’ notice,” Mueller said. “We temporarily have our wastewater drain closed; everything is being pumped to frac tanks (and a pit).”
Instead of flushing waste into the wastewater system, staff directed outflow into tanks outside the facility and an underground tank. After initial challenges, the creamery was up and running shortly with the costly practice of sourcing semi trucks to ship 30,000-50,000 gallons of wastewater daily to the Metro Plant in St. Paul or a Viresco anaerobic digester facility in Turtle Lake.
“We had a couple of hiccups when our frac tanks and pit were full,” Mueller said. “It has caused minimal downtime, but it is costly.”
Malone said he worked closely with Thom Peterson of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Met Council and the city of Hastings to expedite a long-term solution. They plan to construct an on-site wastewater processing system with an estimated price tag just south of $1,000,000 and an ambitious six-month timeline.
“Hopefully, by the time the snow flies, we will have all the needed construction done,” Malone said. “Maybe we’ll be able to operate the equipment already by then, but it is going to take a lot of people working together in that tight window of time.”
While working on the long-term solution, the creamery brought on Jon Polasky of the University of Minnesota School of Management as a consultant to identify short-term solutions and reduce the rate of milk going down the drain.
“As far as (recent) violations, in day-to-day production, there are things that happen,” Malone said. “These are not great big events where huge amounts of milk are going down the drain. That is not the case; it leaks from valves or residue from trucks being washed out. It is not crazy amounts of milk; it is normal production.”
With the addition of a checklist for staff to locate milk leaks, creamy management hopes to provide evidence of improved wastewater quality to regain access to the Hastings treatment facility before the conclusion of the initial 30-day timeline.
“(Polasky) is coming on board to help us with any little thing we can do differently,” Malone said. “There are not many things we can do because it is a creamery – there are just a certain amount of lines being flushed – but all of the little things lead to big things. If we can do anything to show we are doing our part in trying to make things as good as they can be, that’s what I want to do.”
Hastings Creamery management has worked to maintain an open line of communication and transparency with suppliers and customers as they maneuver the regulatory challenges.
“For the most part, customers have been understanding, but ultimately they really need products to sell,” Malone said. “For the business to be lucrative, we need to be able to be selling as much as we can, so that has been tough. I really feel that if we can get back to normal and get everybody’s morale up, it will be fine.”


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