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Courts uphold approval of Meeker County dairy feedlot expansion

LITCHFIELD -- Meeker County's approval of a dairy feedlot expansion has been upheld a second time by the courts. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed a Meeker County District Court decision that the Meeker County Board of Commissioners did...

LITCHFIELD -- Meeker County's approval of a dairy feedlot expansion has been upheld a second time by the courts.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed a Meeker County District Court decision that the Meeker County Board of Commissioners did not need to require an environmental impact statement before allowing the expansion of a dairy feedlot near Lake Minnie Belle.

The decision filed Monday states that the county was correct in not requiring an environmental impact statement prior to issuing a conditional use permit for the expansion of Dan Fitterer's dairy feedlot in Greenleaf Township.

An environmental impact statement is a study designed to inform a government body of all the environmental effects a project or construction plan could have on the property or surrounding area.

"Sure, it's a big relief to have (the state Court of Appeals) come back with a decision in our favor," Fitterer said in a Wednesday phone interview, "and I hope that this may be the end of it."

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The Friends of Lake Minnie Belle, a group of 23 people comprised mostly of homeowners who live near the lake, appealed the County Board's decisions in April 2006 to issue a conditional use permit and not require an environmental impact statement for the dairy feedlot expansion, according to Tribune archives. In the appeal, the group said the permit was granted without adequate environmental review. The group also cited concerns about the dairy feedlot expansion's effect on water quality, air quality and property values near the lake. Meeker County's attorney in the lawsuits, Jay T. Squires of Ratwik, Roszak, & Maloney in Minneapolis, said the appeal regarding the conditional use permit was settled before a court ruling, but the citizens' group proceeded with a District Court appeal regarding the environmental impact statement. The Friends of Lake Minnie Belle claimed the board made an "arbitrary and capricious" decision by making inadequate findings that were contrary to evidence on the record.

In September, the Meeker County District Court favored the board and Fitterer by upholding the board's decision to not require an environmental impact statement for the expansion, according to court documents.

The Friends of Lake Minnie Belle then appealed that decision to the state appellate court, citing the Meeker County Board's refusal to consider some submitted information about the expansion prior to making the decision to issue the conditional use permit.

The state Court of Appeals in its decision affirmed that the county's procedures involving the dairy feedlot were legal and within the board's jurisdiction, according to Beth Cummins, assistant county attorney for Meeker County.

According to the decision, Meeker County performed all the legal environmental study requirements and received approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regarding the expansion plan. The decision also states that the county was not required to consider some information submitted by the citizens' group because it was submitted after the public comment period on the issue had closed.

Squires said the citizens' group has 30 days to challenge the decision by the appeals court, but the state Supreme Court is not required to review the case.

The Tribune was unable to reach a representative of the Friends of Lake Minnie Belle Thursday.

Prior to the granting of the conditional use permit in 2006, Fitterer had stated his plans to expand his dairy feedlot from 40 cows to 140. He also planned to convert an existing barn into a milking parlor and maternity pens, expand the manure basin, remodel a loafing barn, and possibly add a second loafing barn in the future.

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Since being granted permission, Fitterer said he has finished remodeling, has built the manure basin and has yet to build the second barn, although he is close to starting construction. As for cows, he said he has 70 to 75 on the feedlot.

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