Conditional use permit approved for large dairy

BENSON -- A conditional use permit for what will be the largest dairy in the state was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Swift County Board. East Dublin Dairy, a partnership of about 20 families, plans to build a 6,600-head feedlot in Dublin To...

BENSON -- A conditional use permit for what will be the largest dairy in the state was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Swift County Board.

East Dublin Dairy, a partnership of about 20 families, plans to build a 6,600-head feedlot in Dublin Township. The proposal is being led by the Fehr family of the Morris area.

The board approved the permit with 17 conditions. The permit and conditions had been recommended by the Swift County Planning Commission, although not unanimously. The County Board changed one of those conditions before approving them.

Tom Walsh, one of the dairy partners, said after the meeting he doesn't know when the feedlot will be built. They had originally proposed to build this spring, but Walsh said they will wait to see what happens with pending litigation regarding the dairy.

A group of citizens is challenging the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's decision to not require an environmental impact statement for the feedlot. An environmental assessment worksheet was done, but the environmental impact statement is a more extensive study of specific environmental concerns.


It takes about a year to complete.

A conference to set a hearing on the lawsuit will be Feb. 23, said Pete Kennedy, a member of the citizens' group.

He asked the County Board to delay voting on the permit until a judge decides on the environmental impact statement. He said the hearing could be 30 to 45 days from Feb. 23 and said a decision could be reached within the 120-day maximum the county has to decide on the permit.

Mike Fluegel, attorney for East Dublin Dairy, said the county has not requested an extension to allow for 120 days to make a decision.

The county board has 60 days to respond to the permit application unless it requests an extension from the applicant. The application was submitted Dec. 20.

Fluegel said a decision on the lawsuit wouldn't be reached even within the 120 days because the judge has 90 days to make a decision after hearing the case.

The board discussed at length a condition requiring the dairy to repair roads that are damaged because of its activities. The condition's last sentence had required the dairy to consult with the Dublin and Pillsbury township supervisors and establish a road maintenance agreement.

Several commissioners wondered if that would be setting a precedent. Commissioner Pete Peterson asked why the county was becoming involved with township road issues.


The commissioners decided to strike that sentence. The condition now states, "Roads that are damaged due to activities of the Conditional Use East Dublin Dairy will be repaired by East Dublin Dairy to meet all township and county prior conditions."

Some of the other conditions the dairy has to meet include addressing within 72 hours all public health and safety complaints regarding the feedlot, allowing the zoning administrator and MPCA to inspect the site whenever necessary -- provided there is a 24-hour notice for any inspection in buildings where animals are confined, and ensuring that runoff and surface water will not adversely affect neighboring landowners.

A condition also requires the dairy to notify neighbors and city clerks within three quarters of a mile prior to agitating and spreading manure to see if it would conflict with any events.

The dairy also must plant trees or screen around confinement areas, be responsible for fly control and take "reasonable measures" to minimize offensive odor, fumes, dust and noise.

The dairy also must have its well tested annually and those results must be submitted to the county Environmental Services Department.

Violation of any of the conditions may result in revocation of the conditional use permit.

Kennedy said he anticipated the board's decision to approve the permit and said they knew they were facing an "uphill battle." He said they'll see what the judge rules on the environmental impact statement and consider the issue when voting for county commissioner and township supervisor candidates.

"I think we've pretty much done as much as we can at this point," Kennedy said.


He said if a judge rules that an environmental impact statement be required for the project, the permit would be invalid.

Swift County Attorney Robin Finke said if the judge requires the statement, the dairy's feedlot permit from the state would not be valid until that is completed. The conditional use permit requires the dairy to comply with all applicable governmental laws, rules and regulations.

But he said he's not sure if the dairy would need to reapply for a conditional use permit if an environmental impact statement is ordered.

"It's something that we'll have to be looking at if that happens," Finke said.

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