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Meadow Star Dairy gets final OK for 9,590-head operation

WILLMAR -- With little discussion and only praise for the developers, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners unanimously approved a conditional use permit Tuesday for a 9,590-head dairy operation near Pennock.

Preliminary groundwork for Meadow Star Dairy LLP is expected to begin this fall, according to Nate Hultgren, one of the developers of the St. John's Township farm that will include 4,754 milking cows, 340 heifers and 3,590 calves.

When it becomes operational next year it will be the largest dairy in the county. Commissioner Dean Shuck said Hultgren and his business partner Kim Larson "jumped through a lot of hoops" to get the project cleared.

"They did a good job of doing their homework," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.

A project of this magnitude could've resulted in a "room full of people" objecting to the permit, Peterson said.

Instead, there were no angry neighbors or threats of lawsuits at the County Board meeting. Even during the public hearing last week before the Planning Commission people spoke in support of the dairy.

Kandiyohi County Zoning Administrator Gary Geer said the information the applicant submitted and the amount of preliminary work they completed, "made for a smoother public hearing process."

Hultgren and Larson also made concerted efforts to talk to people about the proposal months ago. They also took willing neighbors on a tour of a similar sized dairy near Morris that Meadow Star is being modeled after. The well-kept facilities and lack of odor there apparently answered skeptics' concerns.

Even with the conditional use permit in his pocket, Hultgren said he and Larson are eager to hear feedback and respond to questions about the project. "We're available to people. We live in the neighborhood," he said. "We're accessible if people have questions."

With "nothing to hide" about the project, Hultgren said, "We don't avoid people and we don't avoid questions."

County Board approval of the conditional use permit was the last hurdle for Meadow Star Dairy from the county's perspective, Geer said.

The company had hoped the county permitting process would've been completed this summer, but the county required them to "go to every level" to prove they'd done their "due diligence," Hultgren said.

That work helped make the final stage of the process go so well, he said.

Hultgren said several routine permits are still needed before work can begin on water and sewage components of the project. He'll also be working with St. John's Township to develop a plan to fortify a township road, First Avenue West, so it can handle traffic from heavy equipment that will be traveling to the dairy. Hultgren said the company would cover the costs for that work.

With the permit approved, the company will now begin actively recruiting investors. Farmers within a 3-5 mile area that could provide feed and/or land for manure will be the first to be contacted, said Hultgren.

In other action:

? The Commissioners approved wetland easements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for properties in Norway Lake Township belonging to Sigfred Knutson, Kenneth Knutson; and a habitat easement for land belonging to Equitable Holding Company LLC.

? An amended grant agreement for the Grass Lake project was approved to reflect additional costs for an engineering study and land appraisals.

? An update and final bill for a mile long project on Joint Ditch 11, involving Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties, was presented.

? The Commissioners approved a new transportation policy presented by County Veterans Officer Trisha Appeldorn, that will provide guidance and standards for individuals who drive veterans to medical appointments in the county van.

? The next board meeting will be Monday, Nov. 3. The date of the regular meeting was changed to avoid a conflict with the General Election.

? The Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for Kim Larson and Duininck Bros. of Prinsburg to mine and process gravel on a 30-acre site on Larson's property, north of Willmar in Dovre Township on County Road 5.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750