The February 28 meeting of the Fillmore County board had two controversial issues on the agenda. The Planning Commission’s recommendation to increase the animal unit cap drew a large crowd and later the public hearing on a possible moratorium on cannabinoid products or hemp-derived THC filled the board room once more.
Chairman Larry Hindt announced that the board would be taking no comments from the audience on the animal cap issue. The Public Hearing on this issue was held February 16 at the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend raising the animal cap to 4,000 animal units from the 2,000-animal unit cap set in 1997.
Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins said she had received 81 emails, of which only 37 were from Fillmore County residents. Commissioner Marc Prestby asked if there was a current application in place. There is not. One farm is near the cap and had requested a review of the current cap.
Commissioner Duane Bakke explained when they get a request for a change or addition to the ordinances the Planning Commission considers the request. There is nothing unique about this request. The commission has considered requests to allow water bottling, home based businesses, ag based tourism, country inns and rock festivals. The request to allow rock festivals was prohibited after some study; ordinances were drafted to allow the other requests.
Road damage/dust is often a problem where there are larger livestock operations. It is up to the road authority (township or county) on how to regulate this.
County attorney Brett Corson noted there was a request with 200 or more signatures to allow more testimony on this issue. It was then noted by Vance Haugen, an audience member, that there were 227 signatures plus an additional 90 or about three percent of the county’s population that wanted additional testimony. Bakke listed all the mandatory permits required for an application for 1,000 or more animal units including an EAW, an NPDES permit, a state permit, and possibly, even an EIS.
Haugen said they are looking for additional environmental and economic studies to be completed. Bakke noted only 21 of the state’s 87 counties have an animal unit cap. Someone asked how many other counties have karst topography? Bakke responded that sites have been turned down because they are not a good site. Bakke said he appreciated the way people have behaved both during the public hearing and at today’s meeting.
Bakke made the motion to adopt an amendment to the feedlot ordinance setting the animal unit cap at 4,000 and commissioner Mitch Lentz seconded the motion. It passed unanimously. Lentz pointed out that the strict mandatory requirements for an applicant to get the necessary permits are in place for 1,000 animal units as they will be for 4,000 animal units.
Public hearing to consider interim moratorium
Interested parties both for and against recreational use of cannabinoid products again filled the board room. County administrator Bobbie Hillery said speakers will have three minutes. The statute allowing recreational use was put into place in July 2022. Jessica Erickson, Public Health director, reviewed the activity of the Fillmore-Houston County Community Health Board, which has worked on a draft moratorium.
The social services department is most concerned with the impact on child safety, including prenatal use. Erickson maintained local licensing and monitoring mechanisms are needed. Brenda Pohlman said packaging must be child resistant, list serving recommendations, and be labeled to keep out of reach of children.
Attorney Corson listed what should be legal violations including mislabeling, the addition of other substances, and quantity violations. There really currently is no enforcement mechanism as to who is licensed, an insurance requirement, or a restriction for a location near a school or day care facility. Harmony and Caledonia have put ordinances into place. No county has put an ordinance into place at this point. There needs to be oversight, so people know what they are buying; there needs to be a licensing process.
Sheriff John DeGeorge agreed regulation and compliance is needed. There is no field test to determine the level of use of these products like there is for alcohol.
Bakke asked about the Harmony and Caledonia ordinances. Corson said they did a good job of addressing our concerns.
Each of the four letters read into the record (Luis Hummel, Lucas Doering, Marc Brogan, and Anna Rae Nelson) were against a moratorium. Seven citizens spoke on the issue. Gerald Wolf, Spring Valley, wanted an outright ban. Aaron Swartzentruber, Greenleafton, was against the sale of this mind-altering drug. Pastor Stuart Weist noted THC is illegal at the federal level and it is not needed in the county. Andrea Welsch said it is a chose, but along with alcohol, it is sad what it can do to families. The question of do we need another recreational drug was raised.
Jerry Collins, Freeborn County cannabis business owner, spoke in favor of licensing and compliance checks; illegal sales should be punished. Lisa Miller said it should be a personal decision; she said edibles work for her in treating her anxiety and arthritis. Austin Baukol argued that limiting sales, limits revenue; those that want cannabis products will just go to another county. He suggested they create regulations without a moratorium.
After the public hearing was closed, Hillery said the biggest thing needed is regulation for proper packaging and the need to address concerns for children. Commissioner Randy Dahl said, for the most part, enforcement is up to the county. He added the current bill may still be changed. The legislature did not legalize THC but did decriminalize it in state statute.
Bakke said the issue is not revenue, but control as the state statute does not say much about enforcement. The board moved away from the idea of a moratorium, but unanimously approved the formation of a committee to work on a draft document for licensing and enforcement. Committee members include Luis Hummel, Lisa Miller, Jason Resseman, Commissioners Bakke and Prestby, Public Health Director Jessica Erickson, PH Educator Brenda Pohlman, Community Corrections Director Tom Jensen, Social Services Director Wanda Berg, Sheriff DeGeorge, Attorney Corson, and County Administrator Hillery.
Other business in brief
• Jill Huffman, Harmony Telephone Company, requested a $75,000 no interest loan from the county for each of two Border to Border Grant projects. Applications to the Border-to-Border grant program are being submitted in 2023 for North Fountain/South Chatfield (a $7.5 million dollar project asking for $3 million from the state) and for the Harmony/Preston gap area (a $2.6 million dollar project asking for a $1 million from the state). A resolution of support for the applications and the three-year county no interest loan contributions were approved for each project.
*County engineer Ron Gregg recommended and received approval for the low bid submitted by Doyle Conner Co. in the amount of $331,221.04 for the concrete overlay project on CSAH 8 in Lanesboro.
Out of state travel for Pam Schroeder, airport manager, to attend Minnesota Council of Airports (MCOA) meeting was approved for overnight stay March 7 through March 9. All expenses paid by MCOA.
*Veterans Service Officer Jason Marquardt asked for approval to apply for the new MDVA CVSO competitive grant which would be used to replace the current Ford Transit with a 2023 Chevrolet Equinox. Approval was granted to apply for the grant.
Marquardt noted that 101-year-old World War II veteran and POW Odell Johnson passed away on February 19. The governor honored him by proclaiming February 23, 2023, Odell Johnson Day.
• Katie Hamann was hired as a replacement RN/PHN, effective April 4.
• Carrie Boyum, PHN was promoted to Lead PHN, effective March 3.
• Stephanie Anderson was hired as a replacement Office Support Specialist, Senior, effective March 1.
• Marilyn Snell was hired as a replacement Finance Accounting Technician, effective March 20.
• Liz Newberg was appointed as District 1 EDA representative.
• The county board’s next meeting will be on March 7.