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VIDEO: Clay County Commission OKs expansion of rural Hawley, Minn., hog farm

MOORHEAD — The proposed expansion of a hog farm in rural Hawley received a greenlight from the Clay County Planning Commission at a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 16.

About two dozen residents attended the meeting, but none of them spoke in opposition to the expansion.

The planning commission voted 8-0 to approve an amendment to Baer Hogs' existing conditional-use permit, allowing for the construction of a new 102-foot-by-212-foot barn that would triple the number of animals at the site.

Baer Hogs currently has a barn that houses 1,200 hogs less than 55 pounds, and the new barn would hold 2,400 hogs, ranging from 55 to 300 pounds.

Tim Magnusson, the county's director of planning and environmental programs, said Baer Hogs does not need a permit to house more hogs because it already has a permit, granted in 2006, that allows for 3,600 hogs.

Along with the new barn, the planning commission OK'd the construction of a walkway between the two barns and a shed for composting dead hogs.

Coming into the meeting, the owner of Baer Hogs, Benedikt Baer, expected to hear from neighbors against the expansion.

"We've always had opposition at every hearing we've had. Truck traffic on the roads, and there are always concerns over odors and flies," he said.

However, the only person to take the podium at the meeting was Marvin Blakeway of rural Hawley who said he did not care whether the planning commission approved or denied the expansion. He simply suggested that the county require such operations to use filters to curb odors.

Magnusson noted that no manure or animals will be outside and that the manure pit will be drained periodically. He said the closest neighbor to the operation is 3/4 mile away.

Benedikt Baer's father is Amos Baer, a planning commission member. Because of the relationship, Amos Baer recused himself from the vote on amending the permit.

Along with the planning commission's approval, Baer Hogs must also receive consent from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to build a new barn, Magnusson said.

In 2007, Baer Hogs applied for a similar permit in a different location. The permit application encountered fierce opposition from neighboring farms, and county officials ultimately denied it, citing concerns that the hog operation's large volume of manure posed a high risk of contaminating groundwater and creating odor problems.