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Tim Neugebauer, right, speaks with Davison County Commissioner Kim Weitala, left, and Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke during a tour of Neugebauer's swine finishing facility near Ethan in this May 2018 photo. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

Davison planning board signs off on rural hog operation

The Davison County Planning Commission unaninimously approved a conditional use permit request for the construction of a 2,400-head swine finishing animal feeding operation in Rome Township during its Tuesday meeting.

The commission met at the Davison County North Offices in Mitchell with members Chuck Storm, Steve Thiesse, Bruce Haines and Brenda Bode in attendance. The group voted in favor of granting a conditional use permit to Tim Neugebauer, of rural Ethan. The planning commission's decision is non-binding, and the Davison County Commission will take up the issue during its scheduled March 12 meeting for a final decision.

The facility would have the same layout as other barns Neugebauer owns, each of them 50 by 400 feet and constructed for finishing pigs from 55 pounds to market weight. As in the case of Neugebauer's other barns, he said Tuesday that the new facility would keep his family involved with the farm in future generations, something he said is important to him.

"It's me and my wife, my kids, my nephew doing the work," he said. "It's a family affair."

The facility would be built just north of the Davison-Hutchinson county line, and about six miles southwest of Ethan. Neugebauer finished a similar facility last year in Tobin Township, which is next to Rome Township to the west. The livestock would be owned by Sunterra Farms, which contracts with local farmers to raise the hogs.

This proposed barn has received approval from the State Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, he said, while his manure management plan is being reviewed by state officials. He plans to start work around April 15, but that's contingent on the weather.

The proposed barn is unpopular with a few other neighbors. Jay Wempe, who owns eight acres of farmland adjacent to where the proposed barn will be constructed, said he's used that land to host out-of-state pheasant hunters for 25 years. He said those hunters wouldn't come and spend money in Mitchell in the fall with the hog barn close to his land.

Darrell Hohn, who lives within 2,100 feet of the proposed barn and is related to Wempe, outlined his reasons for opposing the project, including damaging the gravel roads, concerns about local waterways and his issues with migraines, which he says are made worse by the poor air quality. He said he tried three times to have hogs on his family farm in the last 30 years but the migraines made it too difficult to keep them.

"I've lived on the farm my whole life. I realize the value to the hog setups for the farmers who have them, but I strongly oppose this project because of its location," he said.

Hohn said he was concerned about the underground aquifers and the air quality driving out

"We purchased these acreages to have clean air," Hohn said. "If we start losing these acreages, how will it affect the small schools, and the communities. People are not going to move out here if there's a hog barn every mile. It's not going to happen."

Erin Hennley, who lives with Hohn on the farm, said the nearby creek that cuts through the concerned area remains in good shape. She said the stream is a home for Topeka shiner, which is species of small minnows that are deemed endangered. Hennley said whooping cranes, which are also endangered, hang out near the stream during the spring and summer months. She said the hog barn would "chase them off their ancestral farm," which she said has been updated repeatedly over the last six years.

"Our only option will be to leave, and that's not really fair to us," she added.

In the justification for approval, Bode said that Neugebauer was organized with the information the county was seeking, and was glad to see that Rome Township was pursuing a road agreement to make sure that the potential damage to the roads would be covered by Neugebauer, if necessary.

Storm said he prefers to see the barn further away from neighboring farms but recognized that Neugebauer met the requirements. Davison County ordinances call for commercial animal feeding operations of that size to be a half-mile from public wells, 250 feet from private wells, a quarter-mile from rivers or streams that could be a drinking supply and 300 feet from public road right-of-ways and property lines that show change of ownership.

"Personally, I would like to see it a half-mile but you are in compliance with what we're asking," Storm told Neugebauer.

Neugebauer said the new barn would be located closest to his mother's home — within 2,000 feet — and long term he knows that home is staying in the family.

"No matter where I move that, I'm going to be faced with the same problems," Neugebauer said. "We do have other places where the barn can be put, but we're going to run into the same thing."