Home News Local News Chaves County dairy negotiating to settle over $226K in fines

Chaves County dairy negotiating to settle over $226K in fines

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A Lake Arthur-area dairy is negotiating with the state to resolve issues that the business owner says concerns incomplete paperwork, but which the state characterized in documents as a “consistent pattern of noncompliance” and “an indifference to environmental protection” that could result in more than $200,000 in fines.

Creekside Dairy owner Abel Villalpando, who lists his business office on East Ojibwa Road in Dexter, asserted that he is not doing anything improper, but only needs to complete permit applications in the way the state requires.

“Anything in the permitting as far as discharge and monitor testing, we’ve done and the state knows that,” said Villalpando. “We are not fighting. I am not disagreeing with them having a permit, and they are not disagreeing with us about having any discharge.”

The New Mexico Environment Department Water Protection Division issued an administrative compliance order Sept. 22 to the dairy on Roswell Highway in Lake Arthur, but Villalpando disputed some of the statements and allegations made by the state and requested a public hearing.

That hearing was originally scheduled for Tuesday but has been postponed until March to give the state department and Villalpando an opportunity to reach a settlement.

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The Environment Department had asked for $226,800 in fines for past violations of regulations and additional fines ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 a day for each day Creekside Dairy is not in compliance with state requirements.

In assessing those potential fines, the state department alleged that Creekside Dairy had been discharging up to 56,000 gallons of wastewater a day in an area about seven miles north of Artesia without the required permits since 2009 and had failed to submit a new application in spite of a verbal commitment to do so during an April 2016 inspection of the facility.

The Environment Department characterized the discharge as presenting a “moderate” chance of harm to the groundwater in the area, located about 29 feet below the discharge area. Dairy discharge, the petition indicated, is known to usually have contaminants such as nitrates, sulfates and chlorides.

The department also alleged that a 2009 test of groundwater at the facility found some contaminants in excess of recommended amounts and that it had found noncompliance issues previously with another dairy operated by Villalpando and his family, Rock Hill Dairy.

In a written response to those allegations, Villalpando indicated that the amount of discharge is no more than 36,000 gallons a day, that no discharge has ever been found to have entered groundwater sources and that he could not recall the complete conversation that occurred at the time of the inspection.

Villalpando added during a phone interview that the dispute with Rock Hill Dairy also had to do with the same issues concerning applications the state considers incomplete.

Villalpando, who described the Creekside Dairy operation as having about 1,500 cows and in operation for about 15 years, said he hasn’t paid any fines and doesn’t expect that he will be required to do so.

“‘No, we are not going to pay anything,” he said. “We won’t have to. If we had done something illegal, then we would have to.”

He added that a third-party business has been providing the required data to the state about discharge amounts and water testing on a regular basis and that the dairy has hired a consultant to help them complete the permit application as required.

He explained that he thinks that the crux of the issue involves a 2009 permit, which the state alleged was not done properly. He then submitted a new application in 2012, which the state also considered incomplete. Then a rule change in 2015 necessitated that all dairies submit new applications, which the state alleges that Creekside Dairy never did.

Villalpando acknowledged that he had not responded to some of the state’s notifications of violations about the incomplete applications but said he has been communicating with the department since it filed the petition.

“But as far as this petition we have been in a 100 percent response mode with them, and they have been very accommodating with us and we have done everything they have required,” Villalpando said.

He also said that he thinks the matter will be settled before March.

“It’s an easy fix,” he said.

Officials with the New Mexico Environment Department chose not respond by press time to a request for a comment.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.