An overflow crowd, more than 100, attended the February 16 meeting of the Fillmore County Planning Commission. A public hearing was held for the only item on the agenda, a proposed amendment to Section 9 (new animal feedlots and expansion of existing feedlot facilities). The proposed amendment to the Fillmore County Feedlot Ordinance will raise the animal unit cap set at 2,000 animal units in 1997 to 4,000 animal units.
Dallas Dornink, feedlot officer, made it clear that the state of Minnesota has stringent standards in place for the permitting of feedlots. All feedlot applications over 1,000 animal units are permitted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Applicants must meet the requirements of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The NPDES is permitted and enforced by the state, authorized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. An Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) is mandatory for applications for 500 animal units or more in a “sensitive” area and for 1,000 animal units or more in a “non-sensitive” area.
Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins had a list of those who wished to comment on this issue; each were granted two minutes. Commissioner Duane Bakke read six letters from individuals that wanted their comments on the record, who were not in attendance.
The following supported raising the animal unit cap: Chris Miller, Katie Drewitz (Farm Bureau), Laura Thorson, Larry Miller, Peter Scharpe, Michael Johnson, Ben Thorson (statement from veterinarian John Rein), Anne Koliha, Margaret Johnson, Joe Nelson, Lynn Aggen, Richard Johnson, Michael Redalen, Walter Laumb, and Ben Daley. The letters from Matt Hellickson (15 additional farmers in agreement), Dave Mensink, Rob Engelhardt (manager of Lange’s Dairy Equipment), Dan Bergin (nutritionist with Farmers Win Coop), and Lucas Sjostrom (Minnesota Milk Producers Association) were all in support of the increased animal unit cap.
Statements in support include the following: the belief that there should be an option for further expansion; farmers have a huge economic impact and are important to the local economy; this increase will in no way change the requirements for a feedlot permit from MPCA; farmers are committed to being good neighbors and the protection of the environment; farms have evolved to support multiple families; farmers need to have options; questioned whether non-organic fertilizers are preferable to manure; state regulations ensure best management practices; manure is an alternative to chemical fertilizers; family farms include the very small to the very large; agriculture is moving forward as the family farm definition has grown over time and needs to continue to grow; agriculture provides area jobs; extended family farms support local businesses and communities; larger farms generally do a better job with manure storage to prevent pollution; hundreds of dairy farms have exited the industry;there is a need to be more efficient; manure is a valuable commodity; allowing a larger animal unit cap allows young people to join the family farm; and without the livestock industry small towns will become ghost towns.
The following spoke against raising the animal unit cap: Harvey Benson, Aaron Bishop, Dayna Burtness, Bonita Underbakke, Carol Thompson, Kaye Eiken, Wayne Feldmeier, George Spangler, Dick Nethercut, Rita LeDuc, Pam Seebach, Heidi Eger, Andrea Walsh, Susan Wiegrefe, Vance Haugen, and Eva Barr.
Statements against raising the animal unit cap included the following: 17% of wells in the county do not produce safe drinking water; the water table drops due to huge water usage by large livestock operations; nitrates already too high in some private wells; if it isn’t broke don’t fix it; technology doesn’t protect water quality; county ordinances should protect the public; ground water is a concern; road damage; availability of water will become an issue; already have deteriorating air and water quality; need to put a lid on additional nitrate contamination in private wells; high vulnerability to aquifers; pollution levels already unacceptable; mega corporations a threat to existing farms; people should be given equal weight in a decision; the MPCA or the county cannot control pollution; act cautiously; raising the cap is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist; 99% of farmers okay with current cap; there is a serious problem with groundwater contamination; and a desire for more farms, not fewer farms.
During the lengthy public hearing, no voices were raised. It was a civil discussion as opposing opinions were expressed.
After the public hearing was closed, Gary Ruskell began the discussion of the members. He suggested a 3,000-animal unit cap which will give room for expansion. Adkins said there are seven feedlots in the county over 1,000 animal units. She added it usually isn’t the large facilities that generate the majority of complaints.
Duane Bakke explained why this has come up now. The reason why we are considering raising the cap is that someone has come in who is close to the limit. Just as ordinances have been altered in the past when someone wanted a winery or a water bottling facility to be allowed.
Someone commented on road damage. Steve Duxbury said restrictions can be put on a permit to address road issues; it is one of the steps. Andy Bisek said he understands the need for farmers to have flexibility. He questioned whether commercial fertilizer is better than manure.
Arlynn Hovey argued against raising the cap to 4,000. He insisted big setups demolish the roads.
A motion was made to raise the cap to 3,000. Tom Thompson moved to amend the motion to raise the cap to 4,000. The amendment passed with Bakke and Hovey voting against the amended motion. A motion to recommend to the county board to raise the cap to 4,000 was approved 5-1. Hovey voted against. Trinity Johnson abstained on both votes.
The county board will consider the Planning Commission’s recommendation. The board could make a different determination on the cap than the recommendation from the Planning Commission or they could approve it as recommended.
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