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Davison County North Offices. (File photo)

County approves 3 CAFOs southwest of Mitchell, SD

MITCHELL, S.D. — Neighbors spoke against three hog feeding operations that were later approved by the Davison County Commission Tuesday.

Five opponents raised concerns over smell, water consumption, harm to property values and even harm to tourism.

"How many do we have to get up here before homes start losing valuation?" said Jerry Smith. "There has to be some tipping point. It's going to come sooner rather than later."

The three concentrated animal feeding operations, CAFOs, will be built about 10 miles southwest of Mitchell. Each will house up to 2,400 swine or 960 animal units. Their approximate locations are at the intersections of 401st Avenue and 260th Street in Lisbon Township, 400th Avenue and 263rd Street, and 399th Avenue and 262nd Street.

Jeff Miller controls the land and will work in partnership with Chris DeRocher on behalf of Sunterra Farms. Miller will receive manure from the operation to use as fertilizer in lieu of rent.

"It's a good business model," complained opponent Jerry Smith, "but it's not conducive to community living."

Construction of the barn could begin in July and will require six to eight weeks. Manure will be injected into the ground to reduce odor. Using manure on site will eliminate the need for trucking it.

"They don't own the hogs," noted opponent Dale Smith. "All they get is the manure, and 95 percent of the revenue from hogs goes to Iowa. We get what's left: the smell and manure."

While Davison County will benefit from increased tax income, he said, "The township gets about $16."

Dale Smith called the operations the tip of the iceberg.

"There will be 50 of them in five years," he predicted.

Opponent Anne Smith wondered if local contractors would benefit or whether all of the money spent on projects would go to Iowa.

Opponent Arden Lemke said his wife hails from an area of Germany where feeding operations are so crowded people cannot open windows.

"We have tourism here and we're going to ruin it," Lemke said. "For a few dollars — what this is making — you're going to take millions away."

Opponent Dale Smith raised concerns about the 4,000 gallons of water used daily at each operation.

"Are there more of these in the plan?" he asked commissioners.

DeRocher said he had no current plans for additional operations.

Jeff Bathke, Davison County Planning and Zoning administrator, said no additional applications were pending.

On the issue of water usage, Mark Jenniges, deputy planning administrator, said the state requires a water permit for the use of 28,000 gallons daily and the CAFOs raise no concerns for the watershed.

Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode said that while she wished the project benefited the local economy more, "We have no right to say someone can't come in and do this. We are not allowed to make that kind of a decision."

Commissioner Dennis Kiner said he would like to revisit the issue of water use.

"I am concerned down the road about the aquifers," Kiner said. "They can draw down, and at some point we're going to be tapped."

He noted the commission had little leeway on the three projects.

"I understand we can't refuse anything that fits the criteria of the ordinance," Kiner said.

Bode said she believed the use of CAFOs would be self-limiting if their objective truly was the manure.

"You have to have a place to put it," Bode said, noting farmers can apply only limited quantities.

Miller said state rules allow for the application of up to 3,500 gallons of manure per acre per year on his land.

"That will get us pretty close to what our commercial fertilizer is now," Miller said.

Bode said it wasn't feasible to transport manure long distances.

"Will I see more in my neighborhood?" she asked. "It's possible.

"(But) I will not see (manure) hoses going from town to town," she said.

Commissioners also approved variances to move the CAFOs closer to nearby roads in order to preserve farmland.