Dairy opponents win court victoryJudge orders county to cancel permits or appear for hearing to explain actions.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
ALEXANDRIA — A judge has ordered Hanson County officials to either cancel building permits issued to the developer of a proposed 7,000-head dairy or appear in court to explain why the permits have been extended.
Opponents of the proposed dairy, who are now organized as a nonprofit corporation known as Concerned Citizens of Hanson County Inc., applied for the order after their complaint about conditional use permits issued to the dairy’s developer, Michael Crinion, was not acted upon by the Hanson County Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment.
Judge Tim Bjorkman signed the order, officially known as a writ of mandamus, on Monday.
“It’s a huge hurdle to convince a judge that a hearing should be proposed,” said state Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, who has been heavily involved in fighting the proposed dairy.
“I’m very pleased that the good folks of Hanson County are going to get their day in court,” he said. “Hopefully these folks will get the justice they deserve.”
The judge’s order requires the members of the Hanson County Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment to cancel the conditional use permits issued to the dairy’s developers on Aug. 24, 2007, or to appear in court this spring to explain why the permits have been extended beyond what is allowed by a Hanson County zoning ordinance.
The permits in question allow the dairy’s developers to operate a concentrated animal feeding operation on land in Jasper Township where the dairy is proposed to be located.
The Concerned Citizens, led by Fulton resident Rob Bender, Rep. Nelson and attorney R. Shawn Tornow, first complained about the extension of the dairy’s permits to Hanson County commissioners on Dec. 21.
According to a Hanson County zoning ordinance, a conditional use permit should be canceled by the zoning administrator if the work has not begun after 180 days or has not been substantially completed after two years. Despite that language in the ordinance, commissioners extended the deadlines.
Opponents of the dairy attest those extensions violated the county ordinance and should not have been granted.
Tornow explained the Concerned Citizens would have preferred to settle its issues with Hanson County’s officials out of court, but given the lack of action, the group had no other choice.
“In a way, it’s too bad it had to come to this,” he said Thursday. “This is really the only legal recourse available to the Concerned Citizens.”
Tornow said the affidavit submitted to Judge Bjorkman showed the Hanson County Zoning Board had made a conscious decision to take no action regarding the Concerned Citizens’ complaint.
“I’m not sure what argument (the commissioners) may try to present,” Tornow said. “I think they will have an uphill battle trying to explain to the judge why it is they chose to ignore their own ordinance.”
Hanson County Zoning Administrator Mary Wilcox said she has been instructed not to comment on the ongoing litigation involving the proposed dairy.
Hanson County Zoning Board member Roland Schnabel also declined to comment.
Attempts to contact other commissioners were unsuccessful.
The dairy’s opponents are also suing to revoke the dairy’s water permit, which allows it to pump 720,000 gallons of water from the region’s aquifer each day.