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Cities speak up about proposed changes to feedlot ordinance

WORTHINGTON — Resolutions from a half-dozen city councils, combined with feedback from other city leaders, will have the Nobles County Planning Commission going back to the drawing board as it considers changes in setback requirements for livestock feedlots.

During a public hearing Wednesday night on the proposed changes, several individuals voiced opposition to a proposed reduction in setback requirements from population centers.

The proposal would have allowed 11 to 100 animal units within a half-mile — and 101 to 999 animal units within three-fourths mile — of population centers. The current ordinance states that farms with 10 to 1,999 animal units be at least one mile from city limits. In both cases, farms with 2,000 to 5,000 animal units will remain at a 1.5 mile setback, and farms with more than 5,000 animal units will remain at a two-mile setback.

Several city and township leaders spoke up during the hearing, including Lismore City Councilman Larry Koehne, who asked the commission why it wanted to change the setbacks.

“Why can’t we just leave them the way they are?” he asked. “If cities have these ordinances in place, how come you fight us on that?”

The city of Lismore, last July, established a resolution that livestock facilities could not be constructed within a mile of city limits. That resolution, along with those from other communities across Nobles County, was submitted to the environmental services office prior to Wednesday’s hearing.

Nobles County Planning and Zoning Administrator Kathy Henderschiedt responded to Koehne’s questions by explaining that the commission began looking at its existing feedlot ordinance because of the number of variance requests it was granting. She said it came to a point that the commission either needed to stick to the ordinance or change it. And, once it opened it up for review, it looked at all of the setback requirements.

In addition to changing some of the setback distances, the planning commission added in separation distances for livestock facilities from churches and cemeteries, and proposed greater separation distance from Maka Oicu County Park, compared to other county parks because it provides overnight camping.

Resolutions in opposition to reducing the separation distances from livestock facilities to population centers were submitted from the cities of Adrian, Bigelow, Ellsworth, Lismore, Round Lake and Rushmore. Most requested the distances remain the same as what’s in the current ordinance, with the city of Ellsworth suggesting that the separation distances be increased.

City leaders from Brewster and Worthington spoke during the hearing, also in support of not changing the separation distances as they pertain to population centers.

The city of Bigelow said that while it understands and supports opportunities to increase economic development and expand agricultural opportunities within Nobles County, it’s concerned a reduction in separation distances will have a negative impact on quality of life, as well as future growth and property values within the city. The city of Brewster cited similar concerns.

The Ellsworth City Council had unanimous support in requesting no changes be made to the existing separation distances.

“If any changes were to be made, it should be increasing the distance from any city, church (and) parks,” the resolution states. The city also stated it is mandated by the state to create a wellhead protection plan to protect groundwater, and that local farmers with feedlots and Nobles County are to work together to protect the groundwater that is fed to the city.

Lismore’s resolution included, “To be respectful of the families of the deceased that are buried in the nearby cemeteries, this proposed variance would impede on their wellbeing for visitations,” and asked that no livestock facilities be permitted within a mile of city limits, churches and cemeteries.

Rushmore’s City Council did not result in a unanimous vote, however, the majority requested separation distances from population centers not be decreased.

“The citizens of Rushmore are currently subjected to manure odors from other livestock operations in the area,” the resolution states. “At times, with the right weather and wind conditions, these odors keep many Rushmore residents from enjoying their yards.”

The resolution also stated concerns that reducing the permitted separation distances would allow more “walk-in, walk-out” permits to be issued without a public hearing. The public hearing, it stated, is a time for area residents to request extra measures such as odor control additives, more stringent manure management measures and the planting of trees.  

Rushmore City Councilman Bruce Boltjes said, “I do get a lot of comments from concerned residents in Rushmore. I would like to see it stay as it is.”

Following the reading of the resolutions, Jason Brisson, director of community and economic development for the city of Worthington, said it seemed clear that communities did not support the changes.

“You have the responsibility to pass (an ordinance) that’s politically tenable,” Brisson said. “To just arbitrarily change it because your board has a tough time saying no to people who come in and ask for a variance, I don’t think that’s a good (reason).”

Brewster City Councilman Ed Busch said he’s spoken with township board officials in his area and said there’s some talk that maybe townships should set their own ordinances regarding separation distances if the county wants to reduce them.

“I don’t think we’d want to go to that point, but it may happen,” he said.

While townships do have the authority to have their own setback requirements, Henderschiedt said she believed that if townships want to take over ordinances, they have to take over all zoning ordinances — they can’t just choose to do those for livestock facilities.

Jim Joens, Bloom Township board member, raised a separate issue during the hearing, saying the township is now requiring a written permit for anyone planning to put in a new driveway. He said too many problems with people filling in 100 feet of ditch and not using adequate-sized culverts have led to the decision. He wanted the planning commission to be aware of the requirement so they can inform producers who plan to build livestock facilities.

As for separation distances, Joens said he would like to keep separation distances from the nearest neighbor where they are, instead of having them reduced as proposed.

“People deserve to have their space,” he said. “Just because someone bought land across the road doesn’t mean they should be allowed to build on top of someone that’s already there.”

Similar comments were made by Lorain Township Chairman Jeff Barber.

“I just don’t think it’s right for someone to be living their whole life and someone can come in and put up a hog building within an eighth of a mile,” Barber said.

Henderschiedt said most hog buildings going up are total confinement barns that house 3,000 head. At that number of animals, a producer couldn’t build within a quarter mile of the nearest rural residence.

“I think there’s a personal space that people should care about,” Barber added. “That’s just my opinion.”

Mike Hoeft, an Elk Township resident and new member of the county’s Board of Adjustment, which considers variance requests, said he concurred with Barber and suggested taking another look at the setbacks.

The resolutions presented and comments made during Wednesday’s public hearing will be compiled and taken under consideration at a combined Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission meeting March 20.

“We’ll address all of the comments and potentially redo everything we have proposed,” Henderschiedt said. “We’ll bring it back to another public hearing to see if we’ve satisfied the public’s concerns before it gets recommended for approval from the county board.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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