The state of Vermont is moving forward with a lawsuit against the state's largest dairy operation for violating agricultural laws and water quality regulations.
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“No farm is above the law,” said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan Thursday, standing in front of the Franklin County Courthouse, where his office filed a seven-count complaint against Pleasant Valley Farms of Berkshire, LLC. “There’s no point in having rules and regulations if they’re not going to be followed and enforced.”

The business run by Mark and Amanda St. Pierre owns farms in several Franklin county towns including the Lumbra Farm in Berkshire. The lawsuit claims the farm has a new 104-thousand square-foot barn and 10-million gallon manure pit — and no permits for any of it.

Exactly when the alleged violations occurred is unclear. The state says because there was no permit filed, they don’t know when the work began but they think it happened in 2016 or 2017.

“When you go behind our back and build these massive structures without permits, without allowing the Agency of Agriculture to come up and do their job, we’re going to seek to hold you accountable,” Donovan said.

The lawsuit was a victory for activists like Michael Colby, who said without them, the alleged violations would not have been reported.

“That’s how it started — with citizens with open eyes,” Colby said. “I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the state asking for information about the permit and I was informed there was no permit and that the state had no idea it was even being built… it’s very satisfying as citizen activists to see the state step in, take the information we provided them, and try to see some justice.”

No one was available for comment when WCAX stopped by Pleasant Valley Farms main office Thursday. Reached on the phone, their lawyer said they did apply for permits — in January 2018 as a medium size farm — and were denied by the Agency of Agriculture, which said they met the criteria of a large farm. The farm disputes that categorization and has appealed to environmental court. Their lawyer says that’s still pending but that she believes they handled permits properly. She also says the state has never said that anything they did actually harmed the environment at the Lumbra Farm site.

The state says they tried to resolve this out of court first without success and that if the farm had consulted the Agency of Agriculture before starting construction it all could have been avoided.

“Instead, they chose to build this massive barn and massive manure pit without letting anyone know,” Donovan said.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan Thursday announced his office has filed a lawsuit against Pleasant Valley Farms of Berkshire, LLC and its owners Mark and Amanda St. Pierre. The state claims the company expanded an existing barn and manure pit at their Lumbra Farm in Berkshire without obtaining the necessary state permits.

The barn is alleged to have increased in size from around 13,000 square feet to approximately 104,000 square feet and the new manure pit has a capacity of 10 million gallons.

“We have a long and proud tradition of farming, agriculture, and environmental stewardship in Vermont,” Donovan said in a statement. “We need to continue to support our farmers while also protecting water quality and the environment by applying these rules across
the board.”

Donovan says the farm and its owners also violated the state’s water quality rules by skirting its requirements as a Large Farm Operation, LFO, under the state’s Required Agricultural Practices law.

The seven-count complaint was filed Thursday in Franklin Superior Court.

An attorney for the farm says there is an unresolved legal dispute about which permit the farm needs

The delay in details being issued on the proposed dairy reduction scheme is “playing with the futures” of farm families, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).

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