Davison County Commission delays decision on hogsAction on permit for large facility postponed until May 1.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Unable to reach a consensus opinion Tuesday either for or against a proposed large-scale hog facility in Baker Township, the Davison County commissioners decided not to decide.
The commissioners, sitting as the Board of Adjustment at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell, voted 4-0 to adjourn the meeting and reconvene at 11 a.m. May 1.
“I need more information,” said freshman Commissioner Kim Weitala, after hearing hours of testimony for and against issuance of a conditional use permit. Weitala said she wants more data on the potential effects that the 5,400-sow facility might have on Baker Township’s air and water quality.
The county Planning and Zoning commission, in a 3-1 vote, recommended approval of the conditional use application at an April 3 meeting.
The 3½ hour hearing Tuesday, which ran through the lunch hour, filled the second-floor courtroom at the courthouse to overflowing with both proponents and opponents of the hog farm proposed by Jackrabbit Family Farms.
A presentation was made by representatives of the Pipestone System of Pipestone, Minn., which would manage the facility and which also manages Bluestem Farms, a similar hog operation in Beulah Township, for its investor farmers.
Jackrabbit Family Farms is owned by a publicly unidentified group of investors from South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.
Pipestone General Counsel Sean Simpson, of Mankato, Minn., noting the absence of Commissioner Jerry Fischer from the proceedings, at first asked the board to postpone the hearing until the entire board is present.
Simpson’s concern was that approval requires a super-majority — a 4-0 vote of the five-member commission — for passage.
Fischer said later by telephone that he gave advance notice last week that he would be out of town on family business and would be absent from Tuesday’s proceedings.
Deputy State’s Attorney Jim Taylor said he is researching whether Fischer, after reviewing Tuesday‘s testimony, will be able to vote May 1.
The commissioners, faced with a roomful of people awaiting the hearing, decided to proceed. Postponement would have meant that public noticing procedures would have had to begin again from scratch.
The postponement decision followed two attempts to reach a consensus. A motion by Commissioner Denny Kiner to approve Pipestone’s conditional use application died for lack of a second. A follow-up vote to table the matter split with a 2-2 result.
The unanimous decision to adjourn and continue the hearing May 1 was made after a brief consultation with Taylor.
Pipestone’s managing partner, Dr. Barry Kerkaert, gave the meeting a positive spin.
“Actually, we’re excited that the commissioners have enough interest in the project that they want to clarify a few questions. I think they recognize its value to the community and to the industry.”
During the meeting, Kerkaert told the audience Jackrabbit’s operation would be a good project for the state and the county. and good neighbors,” he promised.
The operation’s purpose is to supply pigs for farmers to raise.
Lake Andes Attorney Tim Whalen, who represented Baker Township, said the township supervisors and Pipestone developed a signed agreement to repair and maintain township roads affected during the building of the Jackrabbit facility and for any damages caused by ongoing operations.
But many potential future neighbors, worried about the dust and odors that might be created by the facility, said Jackrabbit should be a good neighbor elsewhere.
Baker Township resident Darrell Mueller said sufficient water is not available for the project — a point that was disputed by Pipestone.
Dave Truesdell, who would live less than a mile to the north of the hog farm and said he has allergies to hog dust and odors, asked, “Why would you want to come into somebody’s backyard who doesn’t want you? We’re not saying you can’t raise hogs. We just don’t want them where we’re at.”
Kerkaert said Pipestone is “here because there are too many pigs in southwest Minnesota.”
His company settled on Baker Township because it has sufficient water, he said, and isolation to ensure the health of the roughly 140,000 piglets that would be raised annually by the operation. He said about 50 prior sites were considered.
Local pork producers John Jones and Brad Greenway spoke in favor of the Pipestone program, which they said gives young people and family farmers a chance to stay in family farming without the need for large acreages.
“I ask you not to be prejudiced against hogs. We are farmers and we need to be together,” Jones said.
Bradley Hohn, owner of MDS Manufacturing of Parkston, whose company makes agricultural equipment, spoke in favor of the proposal. He said he does not have an interest in Jackrabbit Farms or any swine facility, but he said Pipestone has a passion for the industry.
“This is not a quick in and quick out,” he said. “This is a long-term investment in the area and its families.”
Engineer Kathy Martin, of Norman, Okla., who was hired by Baker Township residents opposed to the project, contested data cited by Pipestone’s engineer Todd Van Maanen, vice president of Eisenbraun & Associates, of Yankton.
Martin said reports were not signed and sealed with professional engineering seals as required by law, that no odor controls were considered in the application and that some calculations used had math errors caused by faulty computer programs. Martin said not enough heed has been given to deadly gases produced by hog operations. The commissioners should also require that biofilters that would be used by the facility to minimize odors should have provisions for regular inspection and maintenance, she said.
Martin and others also doubted the credibility of the odor footprint model Pipestone used that was developed by professor Dick Nicolai of South Dakota State University. Several people at the meeting claimed that odors travel farther than Nicolai’s studies indicated.
Van Maanen said all the points noted by Martin would be satisfied in final documents submitted to state agencies. He said his application addressed all county requirements.
Chris Petersen, who runs a family hog operation in Clear Lake, Iowa, questioned the economics of large hog operations and said too many questions remain to be answered in Pipestone’s application.
Petersen also philosophized on changes in agriculture.
“The commercialization of agriculture is pitting rural people against rural people because commercialization is the game anymore. If this were to go a mile outside town, I’m guessing it would never be built. Are these residents any less important because they live in a more remote area of the county?”