Meeker County delays decision on EIS for feedlot

LITCHFIELD -- The Meeker County Board delayed its decision Tuesday on whether to require an environmental impact statement for a proposed feedlot expansion until it gathers more information.

LITCHFIELD -- The Meeker County Board delayed its decision Tuesday on whether to require an environmental impact statement for a proposed feedlot expansion until it gathers more information.

The board, under advisement from county staff, voted to extend the time it has to make its decision for up to 30 days. The extension is needed because the original 30-day period for the board's decision expires this week.

The commissioners hope to make a decision at their Jan. 3 meeting.

The board is considering an environmental impact statement, or EIS, for a dairy feedlot expansion Dan Fitterer is proposing on his farm near Lake Minnie Belle, which is south of Litchfield in Greenleaf Township. He is proposing to increase number of cows from 40 to 160, which is equal to 240 animal units. The farm is near several residential property owners, and some citizens petitioned the county for an environmental assessment worksheet on the project. The worksheet screens possible environmental effects of a certain project, but is not as in-depth or as specific as an EIS. An EIS usually takes six months to a year to complete.

The county received 71 comments on the environmental assessment worksheet, both for and against the project. Thirty-eight people requested an EIS.


After reviewing the public comments and the discussion at last week's board meeting, county staff determined that the board needs maps of well locations in the area, a better description of the land use surrounding the project, a report the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency did regarding liquid manure storage and an environmental impact statement the state completed on general animal agriculture.

The MPCA and EIS reports were made available to the board Tuesday and the well maps and land use descriptions should be to the board by the end of the week.

Fitterer, the state Environmental Quality Board and those who submitted comments will be notified of the 30-day extension.

Board informed of feedlot violations

Also at the meeting, the board was informed of conditional use permit violations the county found at a 1,600-cow dairy feedlot that's part of a partnership called Alpha Foods.

The county Planning Commission and assistant county feedlot officer Adam Barka met with Jim Ridgeway of Alpha Foods about the violations and have worked out a plan to return the feedlot to compliance. Barka has addressed issues at the feedlot for about a year. Tuesday, the board asked that the feedlot be inspected every month until either the Planning Commission or board thinks it is no longer necessary. Feedlot lots with conditional use permits, usually receive an annual inspection.

Barka and the MPCA inspected the feedlot earlier this month and found three frozen liquid manure piles outside of the barn. The piles have been consolidated to one and will need to be applied to approved fields, Barka said.

The manure basin fence had been taken down to allow access for the manure applicators in November, Ridgeway said in an e-mail to Barka. It has since be reinstalled.


The feedlot also did not have equipment ready in time to separate sand from manure. The sand needs to be separated before it is put into the basin. Alpha Foods said the separator will be operational on Monday. Until then, the sand manure will be put into the basin.

Alpha Foods will contract with a company to remove the sand and solids from the manure basin, Barka said. The county will require a letter from that company confirming the contract.

Currently, Alpha Foods has more than 7 million gallons of storage available and feels that is adequate until the manure can be applied in the spring. The Planning Commission said it will not allow liquid manure applications in the spring to frozen ground if the manure basin is full.

"I fully understand the concern of this situation," Barka said. "It's not accepted to have violations like this. This is not acceptable."

Ridgeway said the on-site manager didn't tell upper management about these problems. That manager has since been fired. Ridgeway wrote to Barka that Alpha Foods takes its responsibility to the community and environment seriously.

"It's embarrassing for it to have occurred," Ridgeway said.

Plan for public works building reviewed

Also Tuesday, the board reviewed the design and costs of a public works facility the county is planning to build with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.


The facility will cost $5.5 million, which includes the $225,000 to purchase land east of Litchfield for the building site. The county expected the sale on the land to close either Tuesday afternoon or today.

The building would include county public works department offices as well as an office for MnDOT staff and space, such as locker rooms, that would be shared between the two agencies. The building also includes a 20,600-square-foot vehicle storage area and three mechanic bays.

The state and county have not decided on how to split the project's cost, but MnDOT is considering contributing 20 percent to 30 percent.

The board directed Wold Architects to prepare bid documents for the project. It is scheduled to go out for bids this spring with construction expected to start after July 4 and end in March 2007.

The board also directed county staff to request the city of Litchfield to annex the land.

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