Feedlot expansion approved near Pierz Fish Lake

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer


Following recommendation by the Planning Commission, a conditional use permit (CUP) for the construction of a hog barn in Agram Township was approved by the County Board, Tuesday.

In April, Dale and Laurie Saehr submitted a CUP application to expand to a Tier III large-scale feedlot. They currently have a chicken broiler barn 43,000 chickens.

The expansion will consist of a total-confinement swine barn housing 2,400 head of finishing hogs.

A under-barn liquid manure storage area will provide more than nine months of storage. It is proposed that the swine manure will be injected and the poultry manure will be broadcasted and incorporated in surrounding fields.

The proposed barn is 2,860 feet north of Pierz Fish Lake. It is 4,700 feet northwest of the city of Genola and about one mile west of the city of Pierz.

A public hearing was held at a Planning Commission meeting, June 24. Landowners of both lakeshore property and other parcels spoke about their concerns regarding runoff from the farm into the lake, ground water contamination and odor from the farm invading nearby areas.

Tom Vanderheyden of Wayzata, a homeowner on the lake, represented the lake association. He has been the owner of lake property for 13 years, after visiting with his parents for the previous 20 years. Vanderheyden sits on the Wayzata Planning Commission.

“The request the association was making was for the county to wait to make a decision until data was received from studies about the geology and the groundwater in the area,” he said. “The county was going to have much more information within 60 days.”

When public input was completed and after discussion among the commission members, the commission was polled on each of seven guidelines which are used to assess the impact of a proposed use.

The first six guidelines passed unanimously, but the seventh was voted down 3-2. Commission members Chuck Parins, Randy Winscher and Paul Tschida agreed that the requested use will create an unreasonably adverse affect because of noise, odor, glare or general unsightliness for nearby property owners, Winscher said.

Winscher moved to deny recommending the CUP to the County Board, based on the negative finding of fact on the seventh guideline. That vote failed, 2-3.

A motion was made to approve recommending the CUP and it passed unanimously.

“I felt that the negative finding of fact was a true statement,” Tschida said. “But the applicant meets all the guidelines that were necessary for the CUP.”

“I was surprised by their behavior once there was a negative finding of fact. It was highly unusual,” said Vanderheyden. “The motion to deny should have carried. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe they just did that,’ and the county attorney said nothing.”

“It’s completely rational for a commission member to vote ‘no’ on a factor but ultimately vote to recommend the application once conditions have been attached,” said County Attorney Brian Middendorf. “It’s not surprising that a member would change their mind during the course of a long meeting.”

“I understand changing your position as you learn more, but those votes were taken in sequence after the public hearing concluded and after the commission members discussed the issues,” Vanderheyden said.

A motion to recommend the CUP to the Board was made and approved, with seven conditions attached.

The Saehrs must abide by the good neighbor plan; inject or incorporate manure within 48 hours of application; notify road authority when hauling during road restrictions; comply with local and state law; plant and maintain an 8-foot greenbelt on the south and east sides of the hog barn; stockpile poultry manure on proper soils per Minnesota feedlot rules or in an approved manure storage structure; and make no application of swine manure during Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

Concerns about water quality in Agram Township focus on the nitrate level.

“That area has extremely high nitrates in the water,” said Pierz Mayor Toby Egan. “Pretty much everybody south of the lake needs to have a reverse osmosis filtration system.”

At the Board meeting Tuesday, an eighth condition was added in an attempt to mitigate concerns about water quality, that the Saehrs may not apply manure to any field less than 2,000 feet from the ordinary high water level of the lake.

“Farming is very important to our community, but water quality is something that affects all of us,” said Commissioner Kevin Maurer. “There are many things we don’t know yet, but we want to try to do the best we can.”

While the Board was not bound to the Planning Commission’s recommendation, it did approve the CUP with the eight conditions.

“There is nothing in Minnesota statutes and nothing in our ordinances that would require every question to be answered in the affirmative in order to make a recommendation to the Board,” said County Planning and Zoning Administrator Amy Kowalzek. “The seven factors are a tool for consideration. A hog barn is allowed in an agriculture-zoned district when it meets all the setbacks. It can only be denied if concerns cannot be mitigated with conditions.”

Landowners attended Tuesday’s Board meeting, hoping to be allowed to speak.

“The Morrison County Land Use Ordinance identifies procedures to follow for a CUP,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber. “The public was engaged in the process. The public hearing was held as prescribed. At the board meeting, the commissioners brought forward concerns heard at the public hearing or from constituent feedback. Last-minute addition of items to the board agenda would apply to topics not already listed on the agenda or those that do not have a differing and overriding public comment process.”

“Acting before you have accurate information is probably not a good idea, with regard to not waiting for the results of the studies,” Egan said.

Requiring certain conditions has not put to rest concerns by area residents.

“I’m concerned about the odor to our city, with the prevailing summer winds from the west or southwest,” Egan said. “I really have concerns about the resale value of property around the lake and in our city, if the feedlot becomes a nuisance.”

Egan is also troubled about development potential for Pierz.

“The logical place to expand is to the west, and this really limits where we can develop,” he said. “With a feedlot in that location, it will be next to impossible to do.”

“As a Morrison County taxpayer, I’m concerned about the governance process I watched take place,” Vanderheyden said. “A slight pause while waiting for more information may have been worthy, but it was not taken by either body. The lake association is in conversation about what action to take.”