Ardent Mills works diligently on corrections after receiving fine from MN Pollution Control

Posted 2/1/22

By Bruce Karnick [email protected] A Hastings company has been fined $33,311 by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. According to the MPCA, during an enforcement investigation, it was …

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Ardent Mills works diligently on corrections after receiving fine from MN Pollution Control


By Bruce Karnick

[email protected]

A Hastings company has been fined $33,311 by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

According to the MPCA, during an enforcement investigation, it was discovered that Ardent Mills, LLC, “failed to submit the required notifications prior to dismantling and removing air emissions equipment and starting construction projects to start up new equipment at its flour mill in Hastings.”

The report states there were other violations:

•Missing performance stack tests for particulate matter.

•Failing to conduct daily inspections and keep records of visible emissions and pressure drops on more than 300 occasions.

•Failing to report fabric filter pressure drops that were out of permitted range on more than 40 occasions.

•Missing two annual pressure calibrations.

•Failing to submit required major permit amendments.

These failures were discovered by the MPCA during a routine inspection according to MPCA Communications Specialist Stephen Mikkelson.

The 16-page document shows on February 9, 2021, the MPCA conducted a full onsite inspection and discovered several alleged violations of the facility’s permit, including changes made to the facility not covered in the current permit. Prior to the inspection, the MPCA also reviewed semiannual reports submitted by Ardent Mills and discovered violations of daily inspections and pressure ranges.

On February 16, 2021, Ardent Mills submitted information requested by MPCA staff during the Feb. 9, 2021, inspection, along with missing notifications of equipment startup, shutdown and construction start dates that had not previously been submitted.

The MPCA continued to work with Ardent Mills until their final report was filed on Dec, 7, 2021. That gave Ardent Mills 30 days to finalize the needed repairs, installations, upgrades, filings, inspections and amendments to their permits. Ardent Mills has been working diligently to meet the requirements from the start of the investigation.

According to Mikkelson, Ardent Mills has almost been perfect in their responses. “Sometimes these kind of enforcement actions can drag on for years. Those are more complex and difficult cases. In this one, the company was responsive and are cooperating and working with the MPCA and making the corrections they need to, so it's all turning out as ideally as it should.”

When asked about the violations and the impact that it had or could have, Mikkelson added, “they had the potential to exceed their permitted emissions, air emissions. And if that is something that goes on for too long, or at rates that are significantly higher than they're allowed, those would have potential to do harm to environment in the area, and any residents that may be nearby. It did not get to that level in this case, but the violations have that potential. And that's why when they're discovered they need to be corrected as soon as possible.”

Residents can rest easy knowing the emissions did not reach a level of concern.

Mikkelson also explained that this was the first documented violation at the mill since ConAgra, Cargill and CHS merged their milling business to form Ardent Mills in 2014.

The mill it has been operating on the Vermillion River since 1853 when Harrison H Graham built it. In 1863, Stephen Garner bought and renamed it to the Gardner Mill in 1863. The mill stayed in the family until 1897 when Seymour Carter bought it and expanded operations. In 1912, it was sold again, and this time named King Midas Mill producing the King Midas brand of flour. The Peavey Co. assumed ownership of the mill in 1928 and operated it until 1982 at which time they merged with ConAgra. ConAgra operated it until 2014.

As of September of 2017, the mill was producing over 400 different items for snack and bakery products averaging 52 truckloads of products a day. At that time, it employed over 110 team members and was estimated to be responsible for feeding over seven million people per day.

The check list of repairs is not yet finished, but according to Mikkelson, that is quite common, especially with manufacturing delays in today’s world. “Sometimes, if they call and say, ‘Hey, we're working on this, but we have a week delay for some reason,’ there's give and take and as long as they're working toward completing them and keeping in contact with us, then you know, things may go longer than those 30 days but if they're communicating with us than we understand and work with them.”

That give and take is an important aspect of the relationship that the MPCA needs to have with businesses, especially if manufacturing a custom part or machine is out of the control of the mill.

The last portion of the report summary discusses the fines and corrective actions expected of Ardent Mills. In addition to paying a $33,311 civil penalty to the MPCA, the company has completed a series of corrective actions.

When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected or could have affected the environment, and whether they were first-time or repeat violations. The agency also attempts to recover the economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.

Photo by Bruce Karnick