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Published February 04, 2010, 12:50 PM

Commentary: Add partners before buying farmland

Red Wing is in the process of buying a farm for spreading class B biosolids.

By: John Sachen, Red Wing, The Republican Eagle

Red Wing is in the process of buying a farm for spreading class B biosolids. The farm is 340 acres, located on Mt. Carmel Road and comes with a price tag of $1.75 million.

Mt. Carmel Road is located atop the bluff north of Anderson Center. I live in a home on the road and I am against the city’s plan for the following reasons.

The city admits it needs 100-125 acres, but is buying 340 for $1.75 million. You can do the math many ways, but the bottom line is we are paying over $5,100 per acre. That is about $1,000 more than the going rate for farmland.

If you take away the 60 acres of woods and non-tillable land, we are paying $6,250 an acre. If you take away the 80 acres that won’t meet EPA standards for allowable slope for spreading biosolids, we are paying $8,750 an acre.

Wait for a better economy

In today’s economy, businesses locally and nationwide are seeking ways to cut costs or at least put off costly projects until our nation begins to prosper again.

City officials stated they were not looking to buy land but when they learned it was available, they felt they needed to act quickly because local farmland changes hands so infrequently.

The city contradicts itself on this stance as I will point out later.

The current process for disposal involves using a couple area farmers willing to take biosolids in the spring and summer.

The city has been hesitant to share information on the farms and spreading schedule so I am unable to elaborate.

Winter storage

In the winter, the city is forced, because of lack of a storage facility, to utilize the Ellsworth facility that converts class B waste to class A waste.

It also pays Cannon Falls to store some of our waste until it can be spread in the spring.

The city is in the process of purchasing two tanks from the tannery to help alleviate most of the winter storage issues.

The city feels the current process is working, but is not ideal for the following reasons.

First, the city states that local farmers have been unable or unwilling to help dispose of the bio-solids.

I have met with dozens of farmers in the last month at various coffee houses and meetings, and there a couple of reoccurring themes.

One is that they have tried to get added to the program, but have not been able to get in.

Many farmers believe that to get in the program that you need to “know” someone.

The most common response I heard was simply that no one has asked them to help.

The city has denied that claim and has stated that, if you did not know that the city needed help with biosolids, you must have been living under a rock the last 10 years.

I must confess, I did not know of this need until the first week of January 2010. As I stated earlier, I live in a home on Mt. Carmel Road, not under a rock.

By the time this letter hits the paper we will have submitted the names and available acreage for the spreading of bio-solids to the city, its Sustainability Committee, Planning Commission, City Council and the mayor.

There will be more than 1,000 acres for the city to choose from.

This is where city officials start to contradict themselves.

At the last council meeting, I was told the city hesitates to partner with area farmers because they may sell their farm and the city would be stuck with no place to go.

Find more partners

I point out that if the city partnered with more than two farmers, that would substantially minimize the risk.

There is a program in Rochester that is a great benchmarking opportunity for the city. That community has hired an independent agronomist to develop and administer the program.

Rochester allows two years on the program and then a rest period for the land. The program is so successful, there’s a waiting list to participate.

Why can’t we do this?

Second, city officials feel the current system is too costly. The city says it spends about $200,000 per year on biosolids and has spent as much as $400,000. This number fluctuates depending on how much has to be sent out in the winter.

The city also stated that with the addition of the two storage tanks the number could go as low as $100,000 per year.

Should we spend $1.75 million now or spend $100,000 to $200,000 a year until state funding for a class A facility becomes available?

City officials say that a realistic time frame for funding a class A facility is two to four years.

Questions

How can Ellsworth afford a class A facility and Red Wing can’t?

Is it right for the city to be able to outbid/overbid local farmers for the land?

Is the city doing the right thing or the easy thing?

Do you want the city running a farm and what qualifies them to do so?

How much more money other than the land purchase would it cost to implement the program? (Road upgrades, permits, fencing, wells, etc.)

Let me close with three things.

First, look at the bullet points and questions above. If they seem odd to you, call your council person.

Second, there is a public hearing at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 at City Hall. Come and listen to what others have to say and voice your opinion to our leadership.

Lastly, get involved. Find out where your local council representative stands on the issues and hold him/her accountable. That is how government is meant to work and, if you are at all like me, you have been leaving this to others and it is time to change that.

The city plans on buying this land and will go ahead without having formal approval from the state to use it for biosolids spreading.

Would you be able to go to the bank and borrow money to build a home without the land being zoned or approved for residential?

I forgot, the city doesn’t have to go through a bank. They have our tax dollars.

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