Meeker County to decide on EIS for feedlot next week

LITCHFIELD -- The Meeker County Board expects to decide next week whether to require an environmental impact statement for a proposed feedlot expansion near Lake Minnie Belle.

LITCHFIELD -- The Meeker County Board expects to decide next week whether to require an environmental impact statement for a proposed feedlot expansion near Lake Minnie Belle.

The board could also determine it needs more information and request another 30 days to decide. An environmental impact statement is an in-depth study of specific environmental issues from a proposed project.

Dan Fitterer wants to expand his dairy operation in Greenleaf Township from 40 cows to 160, or 240 animal units, which is below the 300 animal unit limit in the shoreland district.

His proposal prompted citizens to petition for an environmental assessment worksheet, which is a screening tool used to determine whether a project could harm the environment.

Tuesday, 90 to 100 people filled the county courthouse community room to hear the board's discussion on the EIS. Some wore stickers that said "I support Dan Fitterer." Others were there because they had concerns about the expansion.


After an about hour and a half of discussion, the board unanimously asked county staff to draft a "findings of fact" to support a decision on the EIS. The board did not direct staff to draft findings specific to a position on the EIS, but Commissioner Hugh Wagner, who motioned to ask for findings, said he didn't think an EIS was needed.

Commissioner Amy Wilde, who seconded the motion, said she understood that the findings would support a negative declaration on the EIS.

Commissioner Dave Gabrielson, however, said he wasn't sure how he feels about the EIS.

The environmental assessment worksheet was completed in October. A consulting firm Fitterer hired for this project said they believe an EAW has never been required for a feedlot of this size.

A 30-day comment period on the EAW this fall drew 71 letters. Thirty-eight of those letters asked for an EIS on the project.

State Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said at the meeting that there has been only one feedlot in Minnesota that had been required to complete an EIS.

Fitterer's farm is within the shoreland of Lake Minnie Belle, which has 340 residential lots surrounding it. Some residents on the lake are concerned about the expansion's effect on water quality, odor and property values.

Fitterer's farm was found to be compliant by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency during a 2004 inspection.


Tuesday, Matt Johnson of the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, who is helping the county with the EAW process, said there is no easy answer on the EIS question. The County Board will likely be sued no matter what it decides, Johnson said.

He reviewed the main concerns in the letters, including water quality, odor, the project's manure basin and Fitterer's existing operation. Several engineers wrote letters, with some opposing the project's design and others supporting it, he said.

Some letters requested a current water quality study, but Johnson said an accurate water quality test takes three years to complete. Lake Minnie Belle is on the impaired waters list because of its mercury levels, but those levels aren't attributed to a particular source, Johnson said.

Fitterer is planning to expand the existing manure basin to 100 feet by 120 feet and add a high-density polyethylene plastic liner. Some letters questioned whether the basin was adequate to handle a large rain event.

Jared Anez, a consultant hired by Fitterer, said the basin will be able to handle two rain events and store two months worth of manure.

Fitterer has taken several steps to lessen his farm's impact on the lake over the last 12 years, Anez said. The Meeker County Soil and Water Conservation District last week recognized Fitterer as "Conservationist of the Year," he said.

Grant Wacker, an attorney representing his mother who is a Lake Minnie Belle property owner, said the board needs to determine if the expansion poses a risk to the environment before it allows the project to move forward and recommended an EIS be required.

The county board meets next at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 20.

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