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North Dakota Supreme Court rules township shouldn't have denied pig farm permit

The unanimous opinion sends the case back to Pelican Township to reconsider the animal feeding operation permit filed by Grand Prairie Agriculture.

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Partner Taylor Aasmundstad of Devils Lake, N.D., shows plans for the Grand Prairie Gestation Farm. The farm was denied a permit by Pelican Township, but the North Dakota Supreme Court said that decision was incorrect. Photo taken July 26, 2017, at Devils Lake, N.D. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

The North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a township in Ramsey County improperly denied a permit for a proposed pig barn to be built.

The unanimous opinion sends the case back to Pelican Township to reconsider the animal feeding operation permit filed by Grand Prairie Agriculture.

Grand Prairie Agriculture, owned by Taylor Aasmundstad and Daniel Julson, planned a sow farm that would provide piglets to about 10 farms, likely in Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa, for finishing . The proposed site for the farm is 10 miles west and 1 mile north of the city of Devils Lake. The petition filed by Grand Prairie Agriculture was for a swine operation with a maximum scope of 999.6 animal units.

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Taylor Aasmundstad, a farmer near Devils Lake, N.D., was flanked by his father, Eric Aasmundstad, who are working to develop a purebred multiplier to produce young pigs that would become farrowing sows for other hog farms. Photo taken July 26, 2017, at Devils Lake, N.D. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

The proposal drew pushback from area residents because of its proximity to Devils Lake and to Spirit Lake Nation. Pelican Township ultimately determined the proposed facility did not comply with zoning regulations because Kenner Campground 71st Avenue was located within the three-quarter-mile setback for a hog facility in the township and within the half-mile setback set by North Dakota Century Code.

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Grand Prairie had appealed the case to district court, which upheld the township decision.

However, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Jerod Tufte, found that the decision was faulty because the campground in question was on land zoned agricultural.

"In this case, the Township used the campground to measure the setback distance for the proposed AFO. The campground did not include an occupied residence or a building used for nonfarm or nonranch purposes. It also was not located on land zoned for residential, recreational or commercial purposes," Tufte wrote.

The entire township is zoned agricultural.

"Although Township ordinances permitted recreational uses of land zoned for agriculture, the land was not zoned for recreational purposes. ... An allowed recreational use of the land is different from being zoned for recreational purposes," Tufte wrote. "Township ordinances specifically state the purpose of the agricultural zoning district is to encourage the continued use of the land for agriculture and discourage commercial uses which would interfere with the development of the land. Recreational use is allowed in an agricultural zoning district, but the purpose of the zoning district is to use the land for agriculture. The land was zoned for agricultural purposes and not recreational purposes."

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, Pelican Township had a population of 39 people living in 16 occupied structures; another four structures were unoccupied.

Since its initial plan was announced, Grand Prairie has had strong support from agriculture groups in North Dakota. North Dakota Farm Bureau called the decision "a momentous step toward ensuring the continued viability of animal agriculture in North Dakota."

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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