Planning and Zoning Administrator Amy Kowalzek stood before the Morrison County Commissioners last week. She informed the panel that her office was in receipt of a formal complaint lodged against Clearwater Kennels, the factory-sized dog breeding facility located in Cushing Township about a two-hour drive northwest of the Twin Cities.
The grievance was filed by local resident Robin Hensel.
The retiree has long considered the kennel that's owned and operated by businesswoman Wanda Kretzman a scourge. The facility, which has been in operation for 14-plus years, regularly houses in excess of 1,000 adult dogs and puppies. Earlier this year, it was listed among the Humane Society of the United States' "Horrible Hundred" as one of "the worst puppy mills" in America.
Kretzman's operation functions under the auspices of a grandfathered-in conditional use permit first issued by Morrison County officials in 2001. It contains three conditions: The kennel can't house more than 800 adult dogs, a manure management plan must be submitted, and the facility has to comply with USDA regulations.
"I made the complaint for a few reasons," says Hensel. "The USDA inspection report from August 5 shows she has 808 adult dogs. That's in direct violation of her [conditional use permit]. We know she's been repeatedly cited over the years for violations as how the dogs are cared for. Again, that's in violation of the permit. But I'm also worried about the Little Elk [River], which can't be more than a city block from the kennel. I want to know what's preventing all that runoff of dog waste from going into the water."
Little Elk River begins as a capillary of blue in God's country in the Minnesota backwoods. According to the Morrison County Comprehensive Water Plan for 2010 to 2020, the river is among "a list of waters that are not presently impaired but warrant protection measures."
Among collections of old-growth trees and farm fields, the Mississippi River tributary crooks toward Cushing Township.
According to county property records, Kretzman owns four clustered parcels of land, although they're still listed under her old married name "McDuffee."
Little Elk River snakes through almost the entirety of Kretzman's 20-acre rectangle, continues into her 33-acre tract where the massive kennel sits, then doglegs toward her largest piece of local real estate, 40 acres of dirt and patchworks of trees, before meandering southeast and spilling out into the Mississippi at the county seat of Little Falls.
Kretzman's largest canine building measures 254 feet in length. Its inhabitants annually pump out an estimated 220,000 pounds of excrement. Over the course of the dog breeder's time in business, that's more than three million pounds of waste.
In 2001 the breeder submitted a handwritten, one-paragraph note to the planning and zoning department pledging, "The manure under the cages will be raked up on a weekly or bi weekly basis… then be spread over our 17 acre field that is located on our property."
Hensel wants to know if Kretzman is actually disposing of the waste in an environmentally responsible way.
"We've got a note. That's it," she says. "Who's to say it's not ending up in the Little Elk and the other rivers and creeks that flow into the Mississippi [River]? Are we supposed to just take her at her word? She's shown time after time she doesn't do things in a responsible manner."
Hensel's environmental concerns have weight. Among the USDA violations, Kretzman has been cited for failing to have enough labor to adequately operate and maintain the kennel.
At the county commissioner's meeting last week, Planning and Zoning's Kowalzek said it is the Minnesota Board of Animal Health that oversees Clearwater's "manure management" and "manure application."
"My understanding is that they have been compliant," she added.
Kowalzek is mistaken, according to the board's Erica Gunderson.
Commercial dog breeder waste isn't "part of any kind thing we inspect nor do we have any jurisdiction or authority to do that kind of thing," says Gunderson.
Kowalzek says her staff spoke to Don Myren, "the person we always deal with," who works as a board field advisor out of Brainerd.
"[He] confimed with us that they do regulate the application of dog manure," Kowalzek says, "and were informed they oversee that, all of that.… You could certainly visit with the representative we spoke with. That's all I can offer you. My job isn't to administer their rules."
Messages left for Myren Friday weren't returned.
Perhaps what happened on June 26, 2007 might shed some light on the confusion.
"Completed a site visit [at Clearwater] with Amy Kowalzek regarding a complaint about dumping feces in Little Elk Creek," reads a document obtained by City Pages that's contained within the county's paperwork on the kennel.
The letter was written by then-Morrison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jane Starz.
Kowalzek, at the time, was employed as an environmental specialist for the county's public works department.