The U.S. Department of Justice can take over management of troubled Oregon mega-dairy Lost Valley Farm, a bankruptcy judge ruled Wednesday.
Owner Greg te Velde also will lose control of his two California dairies – GJ te Velde Dairy in Tipton and Pacific Rim Dairy in Corcoran.
“Te Velde is unwilling, or unable, to comply with his duties as a fiduciary,” Judge Fredrick Clement wrote in his decision.
“Since filing (bankruptcy), he has continued his long-standing habits of methamphetamine usage and gambling,” Clement wrote. “Drug usage has occurred once or twice per week, and he has gambled estate monies of $2,000-$7,000 monthly. Te Velde borrowed $205,000 without court authorization, and in a one-month period took personal draws of $28,000 more than authorized.”
Te Velde declined to comment Thursday afternoon.
The bankruptcy court now will appoint a trustee to manage te Velde’s three dairies.
Lost Valley Farm opened in April 2017 near Boardman to supply milk to the Tillamook County Creamery Association, which makes Tillamook Cheese at a nearby factory.
The dairy immediately began violating its wastewater permit, which regulates how it must dispose of manure.
In February 2018, the Oregon Department of Agriculture sued to shut the dairy down, saying it was endangering nearby drinking water wells by repeatedly allowing liquid manure and wastewater to overflow storage lagoons.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture revoked the dairy’s wastewater permit. But te Velde has appealed, which could drag the process out for months if not years.
Department of Agriculture officials did not respond to requests for an interview Thursday.
It’s uncertain whether replacing te Velde with a trustee will hasten or slow environmental improvements at the dairy.
Creditors have said they are reluctant to approve any spending on environmental compliance until a consultant completes a report outlining the cost of all needed improvements.
“The Lost Valley mega-dairy has been a disaster from the beginning, and hopefully this decision will lead to it finally being closed down,” said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, which has opposed the dairy since it was proposed
“The Oregon Departments of Environmental Quality and Agriculture could have prevented this fiasco and should have denied this operation a permit at the outset,” said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, which has opposed the dairy since it was proposed. “This situation makes it clear that Oregon needs stronger laws to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future.”
Te Velde also is facing criminal charges in California for felony meth possession and trying to bribe a police officer following an incident at a casino earlier this year. The case is scheduled for a pretrial conference hearing September 18.
Tillamook officials did not respond to a request for an interview. The company is continuing to buy milk from the dairy.