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Disposing of farm buildings gets more complicated

WILLMAR -- Tearing down and burying old farm buildings on-site is -- legally -- more difficult now than in the past.

The process includes permits, site inspections, having a certified landfill operator on location, paying a state landfill tax and recording the burial location on the property deed in the county recorder's office.

In Kandiyohi County, an additional permit that includes a $200 fee, and township approval, is also necessary.

It's not that the rules have changed in Minnesota, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently decided that laws related to disposal of demolition debris should be enforced consistently across the state.

Northern Minnesota MPCA offices have enforced the law since it was put in place in the 1980s, said Paul Kimman, pollution control specialist from the MPCA Southwest Regional office in Marshall.

That hadn't happened elsewhere, where the MPCA operated under the premise that farm buildings were exempt.

During a meeting with the MPCA and attorney general's office about a year and a half ago, Kimman said it was determined the exemption did not apply to farm demolition debris.

That means laws for on-site burial of farm buildings apply whether it's for a large ag operation that buries numerous metal structures over a one-year timeframe, or a small wooden granary that a farmer wants to bury in the backyard in an afternoon.

The MPCA office issued a memo Feb. 4 to county officials informing them of the rules.

"We've slowly been starting to implement it," said Kimman, adding that most counties were just recently informed. The MPCA has no budget to get the word out and is relying on county officials to do that, he said, but he doesn't know if some counties are "looking the other way."

Jeff Bredberg, Kandiyohi County Environmental Services Director, said he knows the issue will "rile people up" and generate phone calls to his office.

"I'm going to be the bad guy," said Bredberg, adding that the system the county had before allowed people to "do the right thing" and bury small buildings in environmentally safe areas without a high cost.

The new rules may not make the end result "more right than before" but it will be more expensive and the process will take longer, said Bredberg.

"This kind of opens up a whole new can of worms," he said, but "legally this is what they're supposed to do."

Whether he agrees or disagrees with the rules, Bredberg said it's important to let people know about the law so they don't take action in error.

The need to inform and educate people became apparent last week when he talked to several contractors who were bidding on projects. They were concerned they would lose business competing against contractors who did not know about the law and therefore may have lower bids.

To make the process legal, landowners must obtain a "permit by rule" from the MPCA, which does not carry a cost, but spells out requirements, including having someone like Kimman view the building and the site to make sure it complies with setback issues, like being 300 feet from a stream, 1,000 feet from a lake or pond and at least 50 feet from the property boundary line. The bottom of the disposal area must be at least five feet above the seasonal high groundwater table.

The demolition burial must be conducted by someone who is certified as a class II or class III landfill operator. The MPCA offers classes to obtain that certification but the cost is $375 and the next class won't be until this fall.

A landfill tax of 60 cents per cubic yard of debris is assessed, there has to be proper cover and slope to the burial site -- which must be monitored annually for 20 years -- and a description of the types and quantities of waste must be recorded with property deed, which also carries a cost.

Technically, federal rules require that an asbestos inspection be conducted by a licensed asbestos inspector before burial of a farm building, but Kimman said MPCA "isn't concentrating its enforcement" on that area at this time.

One benefit to the rule is that having demolition sites recorded should eliminate buried surprises when the property changes hands, said Bredberg. There have been past circumstances when plans for a new garage were scuttled when excavation revealed remnants of a buried barn, for example.

Bredberg said Kandiyohi County typically issues about one "permit by rule" a year, and it's designed for very large projects. He said it's possible the county commissioners may want to reconsider the $200 permit fee for small projects that will now be required to follow the same rules.

The alternative to on-site burial is to haul the debris to the county's demolition landfill, said Bredberg.

Burning is nearly out of the question, given strict Department of Natural Resources' prohibitions against burning any kind of treated or painted wood, said Kimman.

Recent legislative changes allow concrete structures to be buried on site without a "permit by rule," but the demolition site must be recorded on the property deed, he said.

For more information about the rules, contact Paul Kimman at the MPCA office at 507-476-4270, or Jeff Bredberg at 320-231-6229.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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