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Published September 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

Pioneer Editorial: So what is policy on chickens?

“Chickens given 24 hours,” screamed the Pioneer’s front-page headline the other day. Many readers wondered what the newspaper was up to, others who knew the issue also know its importance to those involved.

By: Bemidji Pioneer Editorial Board, Bemidji Pioneer

“Chickens given 24 hours,” screamed the Pioneer’s front-page headline the other day. Many readers wondered what the newspaper was up to, others who knew the issue also know its importance to those involved.

Simply, it is an issue that never should have reached the level of being the top news in the city for that day.

Those involved in the 100-bird chicken farm within city limits — Sam Kvale, John Wilder and Shannon Murray — have good intentions of demonstrating organic farming by raising free-ranging chickens for human consumption.

But is that effort a good activity within city limits? Most larger cities have ordinances to prohibit or severely restrict such efforts. Public health is the primary reason, but zoning also plays an important role. It’s just not proper to have a four-goat herd grazing in the backyard of a Birchmont Drive home near the university.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board needs to visit this issue and determine if provisions are needed to regulate farming practices within city limits, or upgrade any that are in place.

The first mistake, however, was in the city granting a livestock permit in July to allow the operation unless “one complaint” was received, then the chickens would have to be removed from the city limits. Kvale invested in a business he thought could be viable and sustainable, yet the city allowed him to make this investment under the stipulation it would be ended upon receipt of “one complaint.”

And one complaint was received, from Deborah Hegestad, that the presence of the chicken farm is adversely affecting her health.

Under the stipulations of the livestock permit and for the concern of public safety, the City Council had no choice but to order the chickens out of the city and as soon as possible. But the original permit should not have been granted without a public hearing at which Hegestad could have protested. Allowing a single after-the-fact complaint to shut a going business down is just wrong.

At a minimum, the city should compensate Kvale for his losses and costs for setting up elsewhere.

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