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Submitted Photo by National Pork Board

Ramsey County forwards hog farm zoning questions to state's attorney

DEVILS LAKE—The Ramsey County Commission on Tuesday forwarded an inquiry about zoning for a proposed hog farm operation to State's Attorney Kari Agotness.

The move came after the North Dakota Department of Health last month asked Ramsey County to check whether the proposed 2,499-swine facility near Devils Lake meets the county's zoning regulations.

In a Jan. 17 letter, the department asked Ramsey County to determine whether Grand Prairie Agriculture LLP's planned hog farm in Pelican Township would comply with the county's setback distances. A "setback" refers to the distance between a feeding operation and the nearest occupied residence or land zoned for other purposes, according to North Dakota state law.

"This determination is important for the department's review of Grand Prairie's proposed permit," wrote Karl Rockeman, director of the department's division of water quality, in the letter.

Adam Leiphon, the commission's vice chair, said Pelican Township would likely have the final authority on zoning for the project.

"The county really doesn't have any jurisdiction in this area. ... Essentially, we gave the state's attorney power to draft a letter back stating we don't have any jurisdiction," he said. "In our eyes, with what we've been able to discern, it's a township issue."

Ramsey County Auditor Kandy Christopherson said this is the first time county officials have ever seen the hog farm application. She referred all questions about the health department's inquiry to the state's attorney.

When reached Wednesday afternoon, Agotness said she's still in the "analysis stage" and has not yet reached an opinion.

The county has until Feb. 15 to provide a written response to the department's inquiry.

The state health department in January sent a similar question about zoning to Pelican Township.

Lois Steinhaus, the township's clerk and treasurer, said she has asked the department for more details on the hog farm's exact location.

"We would need to know that before we would know whether it would fit in with the zoning ordinances," she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Pelican Township had not set a meeting to discuss the department's request. The township is required to issue a 10-day notice ahead of the meeting.

The state department's requests came after the North Dakota Farm Bureau on Jan. 11 filed a civil suit in Northeast District Court in Ramsey County against Grand Harbor Township, Agweek reported. The bureau accused Grand Harbor Township of overstepping its legal authority in trying to prevent the development of a smaller hog farm also proposed by Grand Prairie Agriculture, the publication reported.

Since Grand Prairie first submitted an application to the state health department in June 2017, the hog farm proposal has faced sharp criticism from the Spirit Lake Nation and other residents near Devils Lake. The project's opponents fear the hog farm could contaminate the lake and air quality in the region.

Dan Niepow

Niepow covers social and community issues for the Grand Forks Herald. Before joining the paper, he worked as a magazine writer and editor. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he currently resides over the river in East Grand Forks, Minn. To reach Niepow with story ideas, send him an email at dniepow@gfherald.com or call him at (701) 780-1110. Follow him on Twitter @dniep.

(701) 780-1110
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