Dairy owner cleaning up lagoon mess

2005-05-24T00:00:00Z Dairy owner cleaning up lagoon messBy HEATHER KOONTZ/Telegram Staff Writer Columbus Telegram

SHELBY - Overflow from a lagoon at a Shelby dairy farm ran into a neighbor's fish pond, killing all the fish. The dairy owner has assumed responsibility for cleanup.

The spill happened overnight May 14-15. Double Dutch Dairy Owner Todd Tuls said a pipe between two lagoons on his property became clogged, and the levels couldn't even out, causing one to overflow into the fish pond owned by Keith "Skip" Houdersheldt.

Keith's son, Roger Houdersheldt, said the overflow ran through a ravine into the approximately four-acre pond. His father noticed what had happened the morning of May 15 while he was baling hay.

The manure from the lagoon robbed the fish of oxygen, and they were all dead by the time that morning rolled around, Houdersheldt said. He called the dairy and the Polk County sheriff, who in turn called the game warden and the Department of Environmental Quality.

Polk County Sheriff Jim Davis said the spill was obviously an accident, and no charges were filed against the dairy. He deferred comment to the parties involved and the DEQ.

The DEQ declared the pond a total loss, but not all reports have been submitted and reviewed by staff, said DEQ public information officer Richard Webster. Tuls could receive a warning, a notice of violation or the case could be referred to the state attorney general's office for legal action.

Houdersheldt said as soon as Tuls found out about the accident, he was willing to take on the cleanup.

"We've already pumped the pond down, it's already empty," Tuls said. He said he will refill it and stock it with fish if that is what Houdersheldt wants to do.

Houdersheldt wasn't pleased with the situation, but he said accidents happen, and a small town is not the best venue to hold grudges. Rumors of a $1 million lawsuit are absolutely false, he said.

"He's been in contact with us almost every day. He's trying to fix it so it won't happen again," Houdersheldt said.

Tuls said the accident was preventable, and he is taking action to ensure such a situation doesn't happen again.

"There's going to be a new spillway from one lagoon to the other, so we don't have to rely on the pipe. It's already been discussed with the DEQ," Tuls said.

Recent rains that have prevented irrigation also added to the problem in that the lagoons were more full than they would have been had some of the content been emptied and used on the fields.

Tuls said the issue is really between the two property owners, and there is really only one side to the story since they are working together to solve the problem.

"It's definitely an accident. It's nothing Double Dutch has intentionally done. We're doing everything we can to restore it the way it was. We're fully responsible, and that's what we'll do," Tuls said. "We've already completed most of it."

Reach Heather Koontz at 563-7528 or hkoontz@columbustelegram.com.

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