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Meadow Star Dairy again given preliminary OK for permit

Work at the site of Meadow Star Dairy near Pennock, above, has been halted since the fall of 2009. Kandiyohi County thus has required the developers to reapply for a conditional use permit. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR -- For the second time in two years developers of a proposed 9,590-head dairy operation west of Willmar received preliminary approval for a conditional use permit for a feedlot that, once it's operational, is expected to employ 30 to 40 people.

On a unanimous vote Monday night, the Kandiyohi County Planning Commission approved the permit for Meadow Star Dairy of rural Pennock. The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners will take final action Oct. 19.

The original permit was approved in the fall of 2008.

It was determined that work done on the site the following year was enough to "utilize" the permit, said Ed Huseby, chairman of the Planning Commission.

But since the fall of 2009, the project has been at a standstill.

Based on the county's zoning ordinance, Huseby said that the permit had been "discontinued" and the developers thus had to reapply for the permit.

Kim Larson, a spokesman for Meadow Star Dairy, told the commission there had been a misunderstanding about utilizing the permit and that major steps had been made in moving the project forward. He questioned the need to reapply for the permit.

Nate Hultgren, one of the developers, said considerable groundwork, including drainage tiles and wells, have been installed on the site of the $60 million project, which was initiated when dairy prices were $20 a hundredweight. In 2009, when dairy prices plummeted to $9, it was difficult to attract investors to the project and work was halted, he said.

"It was a business decision to hold off until the right time," said Hultgren, who said he was surprised when the county informed the group last month their permit had been discontinued and another permit fee must be paid and another hearing conducted.

Harlan Madsen, a member of both the Planning Commission and the County Board, said all permits have a one-year sunset unless they are fully utilized. Meadow Star was permitted as a feedlot, but there is no feedlot there, Madsen said.

Hultgren said once dairy prices stabilize, he expects the project to resume, but it's uncertain when that might be. He said they intend to keep the permit current so that when the dairy economy does improve, they can react quickly.

Although the same permit that was approved in 2008 was considered again this week, the public hearing process opened up the opportunity for public input.

Gary Refsland, of Pennock, raised concerns about air quality and the depth of the dairy's wells that he said could negatively affect nearby residents.

With two dairy operations on either side of the small town, Refsland told the board, "You're selling us out. It's a short sale."

Gary Geer, Kandiyohi County Zoning Administrator, said Meadow Star Dairy met all the state guidelines for water and air permits, which were addressed in an environmental assessment worksheet and are overseen by the state Pollution Control Agency and state Department of Natural Resources.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750