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Dairy plant and Zumbrota clear the air

By Sandy Hadler


ZUMBROTA — An amicable meeting between Zumbrota Dairy Farmers of America plant Manager Lucy Schwartz, Chief Operating Officer Glenn Wallace and the Zumbrota city council on Thursday helped to repair a damaged business relationship that they agreed was caused by a lack of communication concerning faulty equipment.

Zumbrota Mayor Rich Bauer, City Administrator Neil Jensen and Councilor Brad Drenkhahn met with Schwartz and Wallace earlier in the day to discuss excessive dumping in May, June and July of biochemical oxygen demand or BODs, which is a determinant of how strong the waste water from milk solids and wash water at DFA is when it enters into the city’s sewer system.

Two incidents were so extreme that they caused the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to consider fining the city. The infractions resulted in DFA paying upward of $70,000 in fines from May through July.

“It was a very productive meeting and they indicated they wanted to come here tonight,” Bauer said.

Wallace responded, “We had an issue. I’m not sure we understood the magnitude of the situation until it was too late. Traditionally we have been a good citizen of the community, not shirking our responsibility. We want to continue to have a good working relationship. Communication is the key. We missed an opportunity to communicate throughout this situation. We appreciate being able to come before the council.”

Schwartz explained that a milk separator was installed in May to make low fat cheese, in particular parmesan cheese. It had been acquired from another DFA plant.

“Things don’t always fly like they are meant to. We had a collection of problems with it. We tried to remedy numerous problems, but ended up pulling the separator out,” she said.

The plant sent it to the original manufacturer for repairs and got it back July 2. Other work also has been done at the plant to remedy the situation. This has resulted bringing BODs entering the city’s wastewater treatment plant to an acceptable level, officials said.

Wallace pointed out that a lot of local farmers bring milk to the Zumbrota cheese plant. “It is very important to them,” he said. “We are a strong part of the community.”

Schwartz noted that DFA employs 106 people in Zumbrota, with many working there for 30-plus years. The average tenure is 15 years.

DFA is a $17 billion business that sells cheese products to Frito Lay, Sauto, Land O’ Lakes and a number of other well-known businesses in the food industry. DFA is the largest private employer in Zumbrota.

Mayor Bauer thanked Schwartz and Wallace for attending the meeting. He said no decisions would be made that evening concerning how to proceed. He suggested that he, Jensen and Schwartz work together to update and make changes to the plant’s license.