LAKE ANDES -- Following a hearing at the Charles Mix County Courthouse last week, the city of Lake Andes is waiting to find out if its case against a man planning to expand a feedlot nearby will be dismissed.
The city filed the case in July 2018, requesting that the court take action to prevent Chad Svatos from adding to the feedlot on his land, located about a half-mile from the southern border of the city. On Sept. 16, both sides appeared at a hearing to argue why Svatos' motion for summary judgment on a zoning claim and to dismiss a public nuisance claim should or should not be granted.
According to court documents he submitted, Svatos has had cattle on that land since approximately 1993 but began working with the USDA in late 2017 to make changes to the lot, "primarily for the purposes of reducing the environmental impact of the feedlot operations." When those plans were approved and Svatos had gotten financing for the project, he got a building permit from Charles Mix County, which was granted May 7, 2018. He began construction shortly afterward.
That July, according to Svatos' brief supporting his motion for summary judgment, filed in July of this year, the city served Svatos with a cease and desist notice. When Svatos didn't comply with that notice, the city filed its case against him, requesting the court to enforce zoning ordinances and declare the property a public nuisance.
Svatos argued in his brief that the city hasn't shown that he's in violation of any zoning ordinance, in part because his property is not shown in any of the city's assigned zoning districts, making it an "unzoned" area where no zoning rules are specified. According to the brief, Lake Andes' zoning ordinance also doesn't have any default zoning provisions that automatically apply to unzoned areas.
In response, the city filed documents stating it would offer to dismiss the zoning claim after a review of city and county zoning records found that the city couldn't prove it had municipal authority over Svatos' property.
Svatos' brief also made the argument that the public nuisance aspect of the case should be dismissed based on a state law that prevents any agricultural operation from being deemed a nuisance "after the facility has been in operation for more than one year, if the facility was not a nuisance at the time the operation began."
The city responded with a brief stating that it was objecting not to Svatos' current operation, in which he'd previously said he'd had between 25 and 300 head of cattle per year, but to the expansion he has planned, which would include up to 999 head of cattle, producing "millions of pounds of feces each year stored in an open pond within one mile, or less, of the city limits."
According to the city's brief, the city has the authority to exercise its police power to declare and abate a public nuisance, regardless of zoning ordinances. Additionally, Lake Andes argues that Svatos' brief selectively cited the section of the law exempting agricultural operations from being deemed nuisances and that the full text of the law adds a number of qualifiers which wouldn't make Svatos' expansion exempt.
"What the City is contesting, and is asserting as a nuisance, is the huge expansion of the site from what is essentially a pasture with some cattle in it on occasion, to a large concentrated animal feeding operation for finishing 'up to' 999 fat cattle," the brief states.
Judge Bruce Anderson heard argument from both sides at last week's hearing, and his decision on Svatos' motion for summary judgment and dismissal will determine if Svatos can proceed with construction or if litigation of the case will continue.