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Piping livestock waste along highway ditches divides state legislators

Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said his department doesn't have safety standards or require bonding for manure pipelines along state highways. (Photo courtesy of Bob Mercer)

PIERRE — County commissions should have authority over whether livestock and dairy producers can run pipelines of animal manure through neighbors' road ditches, and then pump the waste onto fields as fertilizer, a state lawmaker testified Tuesday.

Rep. Jason Kettwig, R-Milbank, said HB 1184 would expand South Dakota utilities laws to allow waste disposal pipelines along roadways. The House Transportation Committee agreed, voting 8-5 to recommend its passage.

The House of Representatives debate could come as soon as Thursday afternoon. If the House approves it, the bill would next move to the Senate for a public hearing.

Kathy Tyler, a Democratic former legislator from Big Stone City, said the pipelines don't meet the traditional definition of utilities that benefit the general public.

But Kettwig, the city administrator, said pipelines replace trucks and in turn improve safety and reduce road wear.

That's especially true in the fall and spring seasons when frost moves in and out of the ground, he said.

"It gives them authority to make rules and give permits and do things the right way for their local area," Kettwig said.

Marv Post, a dairy producer from Volga, said the lines typically are 6 inches around with pumps two miles apart. Post said the lines often have automatic shutoffs and draglines are used to apply effluent to the fields.

Matt Moeller, a pork producer from Wessington, said he doesn't want trucks and wagons on his fields in the spring because of compaction.

Moeller said he pumps a combined 4.5 million gallons of livestock waste in the spring and fall, enough to fill more than 700 semi trailers.

Pumping takes two to three days in spring or fall, compared to eight or nine days of trucking, according to Moeller. He said a hose in a ditch is "much safer" because trucks are more likely to spill.

Dan Thyen, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Towns and Townships Association, said landowners pay property taxes to the centerline of the roads.

"We are in favor of the hoses, but we just want to make sure the townships are included," Thyen said.

State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said his department currently allows manure pipelines in state-owned rights of way.

Lobbyists for pork producers, Farm Bureau, cooperatives, cattlemen and county commissions also spoke in favor of the change.

But Tyler, who lives on a farm, said rural landowners are paying property taxes on four acres that can't be used in any way for each 160 acres. At the same time rural landowners are responsible for mowing and weed control, she said.

She said the Grant County Commission hasn't allowed adjoining landowners to refuse lines crossing their properties.

"We asked numerous times. We tried to get it done at the county level and it didn't happen," Tyler said.

She acknowledged lines are "a good way to handle the manure" but she worries about landowners facing liability lawsuits, especially from motorists whose vehicles hit culverts that pipeline operators had installed in rights of way along county or township roads.

"My concern is manure pipes are not a utility," Tyler said. "They are not a utility in any shape or form."

Bergquist said the state Department of Transportation doesn't have safety standards for manure pipelines and doesn't require bonding. The agency "would never" let pipelines run right alongside or across a state highway, Bergquist said.

Tyler showed photos of manure pipelines crossing or running next to dirt roads.

"It's my feeling if we vote no on this today we'll be kicking the can down the road," Kettwig said.

He said it's similar to how the Legislature avoided a decision for decades on non-meandered waters.

Kettwig said counties have authority along county roads, townships have authority along township roads and the state department has authority along state and federal highways.

As for Tyler's photos, Kettwig said somebody "needs to a better job."

Tyler said her problem with putting the pipelines in the utilities chapter means eminent domain could be used.

That's the power of a utility to take land for a project, such as a power line or pipeline, that crosses multiple properties and compensating property owners for the loss.

"Utilities have the right of way automatically," Tyler said. "I would have no say."