In Spruce Township, these homeowners want relief now
December 11, 2021
by Jeff Olsen
On Monday, Ryan Dunham, the manager of Norfarm Seeds east of Roseau, acknowledged that some of the homeowners near the plant are not happy with the pollutants coming from his plant.
"I understand some of that," he said, adding that he's been in contact with some of the homeowners.
"I really have more of an issue, not to say that I don't own my problems, with Covid. We can't get any help from other vendors to assist us."
He explained that it is the screenings that are drifting onto the properties of these homeowners.
He agreed that it's been an issue for about three years and that there has been a problem with dust collection at Norfarm Seeds.
One particular vendor who could help alleviate the problem, he noted, hasn't left his office since Covid to assist Norfarm Seeds to remedy this long-term problem.
"What in the world are you supposed to do as a country if you can't get any help? They're supposed to be the experts," he said with exasperation.
Mr. Dunham, who is also a supervisor on the Spruce Township Board, added that his plant will be done with the whole crop in three weeks.
"No other vendors will come to help us. The craziness with that!"
Again, he was directed back to these homeowners.
"I still got my solution here. I just gotta get everything hooked up, but it takes a lot of time and the end is in sight. I have confidence we'll fix it," he said, adding that these homeowners bringing their concerns to the township board is the right approach to dealing with problems.
He didn't think an article in the Times-Region is the right approach.
"You still need to know the whole other side. There are negatives in the world, but there are a whole lot of positives at Norfarm for the local community. I think with good journalism, you get both sides."
It was pointed out that he is being interviewed, and his side is being reported.
He was undeterred.
"There is certainly a whole other side of the local farming economy, and Norfarm is certainly a positive."
It was again pointed out that, for the homeowners living in close proximity to Norfarm, they're suffering.
"I just know there are two sides to every story," Mr. Dunham insisted again. "I'm not saying one side is right and one is wrong."
He emphasized that the improvements they have made in the past five years have been fantastic.
"There are certainly lots and lots of positive stories than just a little bit of dust that goes around. Yet, I'm still working to get that fixed. It just takes a while."
He mentioned that there is no way they can shut down the facility for a month or more.
"About a third of what we do goes overseas," he said, adding that he has to be a better neighbor.
"We've made drastic improvements here even though my neighbors would say the last three years have been a horrible mess. That's not the side of Norfarm that is accurate. Yes, I know my neighbors have some dust. I'm not going to discount that. I know that."
The Other Side
Sandra Hamann-Thompson lives across the road east of Norfarm Seeds.
"The dust is so bad on everything. My swing sets are so full that my grandkids can't swing on them. I have to take a hose and wash them off or wipe them down," she said last weekend.
In the wintertime, she can't take them out and play in the snow because when they come back inside, their snow pants are so full of dust.
"It's terrible and gross," she said.
Her vehicles are covered with particles and thick dust.
"I can never open my windows in the spring or the fall here. You can never open them in the winter to get fresh air because that dust just comes right through the windows," she said, adding that she has talked to Mr. Dunham numerous times over the last couple of years.
"I have allergies and I'm constantly stuffed up all the time. I've lived here since '99, and we've never had this problem except for the last three years."
She noted that Mr. Dunham has given them some compensation to clean their houses, wash our vehicles and other things like that.
"That doesn't cover it anymore. We've never had screenings come over like they do now. We've told him (Dunham) that he needs to fix that."
She added that the grass and the snow are usually brown.
"I'm not going to deal with this all the time and not be able to take my grandkids outside if it's summer, fall, winter, or spring. They need to fix this problem because I'm tired of cleaning, I'm tired of not opening up my windows, I'm tired of not letting fresh air coming into my house. Even my deck is so full, I can't stand sitting on my deck in the summertime."
Larry Kile is another neighbor of Norfarm Seeds.
"We got snow now and they're cleaning seed, and the snow will be yellow. You can dust in the house, and two days later you have to do it again," he said last weekend.
Mr. Kile, 83, mentioned that his wife, Harriet, died this past October.
"I don't know if the dust contributed to that or not. Before she passed away, they diagnosed her with COPD. She had congestive heart failure and colon cancer. Plus, she was diabetic for the last 25 years."
Last Sunday, Arlene Grahn remarked that her property close to Norfarm Seeds gets covered with dust.
"When I open my car, it will go into the car. It's very tough for us," she said about the dust.
"It gets into the house and the garage, and it gets icky in my throat," she said, adding that she hasn't talked to Ryan.
"But he is always promising something, but I don't know what to do," said Arlene, adding that she had talked to Roseau County Environmental Officer Jeff Pelowski and County Commissioner Roger Falk.
"They want to help us, but there is no ordinance for something like this. It's like we're helpless."
On Tuesday morning, they held a Spruce Township meeting to discuss the concerns of the neighbors who live near Norfarm Seeds.
Jenine "Jeanie" Bjerk, who has been affected by the air pollution, attended the meeting.
"I can't say the meeting was very exciting. There were eight neighbors," she said, explaining that Norfarm Seeds manager Ryan Dunham explained that he has the equipment to fix the problem.
"They will be done cleaning seed in two weeks and then will attempt to install new equipment with his own employees," she said, noting that most of her neighbors were able to express their frustrations.
"Ryan said he understands and wants to remedy the situation as soon as he can. We will hold him to that."
She further noted that the biggest point made by several neighbors was that they feel the dust is a major health hazard.
"Since most of us are getting up there in age, it is even more concerning," said Ms. Bjerk.
Sandra Hamann-Thompson tried to remain optimistic following the meeting.
"Only time will tell if he gets the problem fixed," she said, hopeful that they will be able to enjoy a white Christmas instead of the usual brown Christmas.
"I think he's just telling us what we want to hear, and the problem won't get fixed," she said.
"We are all concerned about our health because of the dust and pollution in the air. Everyone shared their concerns with him."
She added that the facility should close down now and fix the problem before starting back up.
"All I want is a white Christmas so my grandkids can play outside and have fun and go sledding in our yard instead of coming in with dirty snow clothes, and they're sneezing and coughing because of the dust."
On Tuesday afternoon, Ryan Dunham was reached by phone at Norfarm Seeds and asked for his comments on the township meeting.
"I think between the Spruce Town Board and our neighbors, we got a good dialogue between us to get the problem solved," he said, adding that dialogue is always good.
"Whether you have some heated exchanges or not, it's always good to have dialogue," he said, adding that dust is a pretty limited portion of what the company does.
"We've certainly made lots and lots of improvements in the past. This is one we've gone backwards on, but we will get it fixed."