RAPID CITY, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem declared the state is “open for business” with the announcement of a bill she is introducing to make changes to statewide zoning and nuisance lawsuits.
She, along with a long line of farm groups and state legislators, unveiled details at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City on Jan. 31.
“This bill is to deal with zoning statewide and really putting forward a transparent, predictable process so that development projects and those that would require a conditional use permit could have some consistency," Noem said.
The governor said the legislation is necessary because of problems farmers and business owners have faced with the county permitting process and working with county zoning boards.
“You know what we’ve seen from county to county is different vote thresholds, different bonding requirements, different appeals processes, some frivolous lawsuits that have jammed up ag development," she said.
In some cases, she said the court costs, appeals and delays have ended up killing projects.
Counties will still have local control, according to Noem, and it won’t change the county criteria or any of the requirements set for conditional use permits by the state Department of Natural Resources. However, it will require that if all the criteria are met on a project, it must be approved.
“If they check all the boxes, this bill would say that it’s approved, it can go forward,” she said.
South Dakota Pork Producers Council President Craig Andersen said the change will attract additional investment in the state.
“It should give a little bit more stability as to if you know what you’re going to be able to work with and you know that you can check those boxes you know that you should be able to go ahead and do it,” he said.
South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President Eric Jennings said expanding cattle feeding in the state would greatly boost the economy, and this legislation will help promote investment.
“Streamlining the permitting process and for (confined animal feeding operations) I think will do that so we can keep the premium cattle in South Dakota, feed them our premium commodities and hopefully get some more processing in South Dakota to capture the value that we have,” he said.
The bill also defines who an aggrieved person could be, and Noem said that’s been determined by South Dakota Supreme Court in case law.
“This will set in statute exactly that an aggrieved person can go forward and put some complaints, but not someone who doesn’t have something tied to these projects or has legal standing,” she said.
Plus, the language sets a timetable for appeals and provides a disincentive for nuisance lawsuits.
“This also says that if someone brings up a frivolous lawsuit or a nuisance lawsuit and loses that case that they will be responsible for the legal costs,” she said.
Andersen said hog operations have been the target of most of the legal challenges and this would provide certainty for a producer that a project won’t get hung up in court. He said that will encourage investment because siting a project can be very costly for a producer.
"If you’re talking about one small producer that wants to put up a building, if you start spending $20,000 to $30,000 on lawyer fees, that is what is really detrimental and they aren’t going to be able to make it work," he said.
The bill is also supported by groups such as the South Dakota Soybean Association.
“The soybean association is very excited to hear about this legislation so we can move forward and so folks can know that as they have younger folks coming up and wanting to grow livestock, that they have a consistent method for applying and getting permits,” Executive Director Jerry Schmitz said.
He said the livestock industry is still their top customer, so development is good for grain farmers.
“Livestock consumes so much of the soybeans in South Dakota. The swine, the beef the dairy cattle and so we are all partners together," he said.
The new zoning would not just agriculture, but all businesses including wind energy and agricultural processing. Noem said as a result, her legislation is attracting a broad base of support from state legislators and she is optimistic about passage. Agriculture is the top industry in the state with a $32.5 billion economic impact and $17 billion of investment annually. She said that can easily be built upon in a more business friendly environment.