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Feedlot Permit Tabled

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WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Planning Commission tabled a request for a feedlot permit during Wednesday night's public hearing after a neighbor complained about manure runoff leaving the site.

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In the three-hour meeting, commission members approved requests for the expansion of an existing gravel pit, the expansion of a concrete manure storage area and for an interim feedlot permit before taking up a request from Kevin Altman for an interim permit for a feedlot in Lismore Township. Altman's current license is slated to expire at the end of this month, and since his 640- by 798-foot feedlot has potential pollution hazards, those must be repaired before a new permit is granted.

According to Nobles County ordinance, feedlot owners may be issued an interim permit, giving them an additional 24 months to fix the potential pollution problems on their property.

Ed Lenz, Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District manager, said the SWCD has been working with Altman since 2008 about the runoff problems on his property.

"He's been trying to correct it ever since he noticed there was an issue," Lenz said.

Because Altman is not located near any bodies of water, the SWCD is concerned about biochemical oxygen demand -- BOD -- levels, which were last tested in 2008.

"His limit at that time was 720 milligrams per liter with the state standard of 125," explained Lenz. "So he was about five times the state standard."

In November 2008, Altman got rid of the cattle on his property and the feedlot stood empty for two years. In 2010, he started feeding cattle again, and again began taking steps to correct the problem.

A proposed plan was developed to install a concrete storage facility in the northwest corner of the property to capture any manure runoff.

"We are just starting the process of trying to get cost-share. He is not eligible for state funds because he is above 300 animal units," Lenz said. "However, he can apply for federal funds this coming January.

"I believe that if Kevin would have had a consistent flow of cattle coming in in 2008, we would have had this problem addressed already. Unfortunately, it's hard to ask guys to spend $250,000 on a project when he has no animals on his yard."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Andy Weiss, neighboring landowner to the north, said his crops are frequently damaged from the runoff from Altman's feedlots. A complaint was first received about the problem in 1991, and according to Wiese, who bought his property in 2009, nothing was done to fix the issue.

"I don't know how this guy ever got granted a feedlot license after 2008. (Now) you're going down the road of the interim permit for 24 months," he said. "Manure runs off this site every time there is a half-inch of rain. I have to stand a loss for that every year."

Weise brought with him pictures recently taken of damage done to his crops.

"Don't get confused by these guys telling you I'm worried about water, I'm not," Weise said. "Take a look -- the pictures, they speak for themselves."

Two years ago, Wiese pattern-tiled his property, laying lines every 20 feet to deal with the runoff flowing onto his property.

"Anyone who knows anything about farming and tiling knows I could drain Worthington Lake with this thing," he said.

Wiese also added an intake on his property that lies directly in the path of the runoff.

The intake and the pollution running through it seemed to concern the commission members the most.

"It would have been permitted tonight, except then Andy put that open tile intake right there on the corner of the property," said Wayne Smith, Nobles County environmental services director. "Now we're concerned about manure going down the intake that Andy put in there."

According to Lenz, the proposed plan would fix 90 percent of the issue that Wiese is experiencing.

Prior to Wiese and Altman purchasing their properties, the acreage and land were under the same ownership. Under one owner, the runoff from the feedlot was not considered a problem.

To complete the necessary improvements, an application would need to be submitted to secure federal cost-share funds. Eligibility requirements to receive federal funds include the ability to show the need for the cost-share dollars.

"So it's a catch 22," said County Attorney Kathleen Kusz. "If he's in operation, he can apply for funding, but then there is pollution going on. The only way to fix this is to allow it to be polluting for a period of time, and if that's not the case, then the land will have to go to a completely different use."

"What am I missing?" Weise asked commission members. "What does cost-share have to do with it? If he can't afford it, close it up."

After expressing his frustrations, Weise said he expected compensation for the damage done to his crops.

Suggestions were offered by commission members about ways in which the two parties could work together to come to an agreement for the loss that Weise's crops are suffering and for other options to divert the flow of manure until the project can be implemented -- at which time the commission was reminded their responsibilities do not extend to civil disagreements.

"I think what we are seeing tonight is some of what we saw at our last meeting where you have a potential civil case and also the permitting requirements of the county ordinance, and I think sometimes we need to separate ourselves from the two," Smith said.

"As a commission, the group does not have the authority to set conditions other than to correct the problem," Kusz added. "Your choice is to issue it or not and to issue it for 24 months or not issue it."

Ultimately, the commission voted to table the issue until the next regular meeting to give the landowners time to reach some kind of resolution on the civil matter. The next regular meeting is Aug. 28.

Actions taken earlier in the meeting include:

* In 2009, the county first became aware of a potential pollution problem on Doug Buntjer's property in Bigelow Township. Buntjer first received a feedlot license in 2001 for 272 head of cattle. In 2006, he was issued a feedlot license for 295 animal units.

When Buntjer came in to renew the license in 2010, the county was unable to give him a license because his feedlot had been identified as a potential pollution problem. Buntjer has not received another license to date.

Buntjer maintained that no violations had been presented regarding his property. He said he believes that any runoff is captured by the gravel pit south of his feedlot and questioned why the county would require changes be made to his operation without any violations.

"What I would like to know is, what are the violations that they have so far?" he asked. "Originally when you denied my permit, it was because I had all the supposed violations ... I'm not against doing this, but I don't see where it's going to make any improvement because now there is no runoff that goes to that lake. It stays in that gravel pit."

"Anything that comes off of this yard, stays here," he said, gesturing to his property on a map.

He added that he is diligent in keeping the feedlot cement clean, especially if rain is forecasted.

"My cow yard is scrapped every day, sometimes two times a day," he said. "Them yards are scrapped all the time. There may be runoff on the yard, but it isn't manure, it's pretty much all water."

Lenz presented a proposed plan to address the issue and gave the council a summary of the findings from 2009, noting that Buntjer's animal units were much higher at that time.

"His phosphorus levels, which is the indicator that we have to look at when we are so close to a lake, was recorded around 104," he said. "The state standard is 5. That is roughly 20 times higher than the state standard for phosphorus discharge."

The proposed plan would aim to reduce the amount of phosphorus and bacteria coming off of Buntjer's site.

The property has one small feedlot on the north end of the farm that could be fixed through a vegetative filter strip.

The south lot has a higher number of animal units and the proposed plan includes "making the lots a little smaller so we could contain some of the manure. It would allow for, on the south end, an earth berm directing the manure toward the east, which would hit a vegetative filter strip again, which would flow it along the township road and to the west," Lenz explained.

After presenting the proposed plan and additional discussion was held, the commission voted unanimously to approve the interim permit.

* A conditional use permit was approved to expand an existing gravel pit and hot mix plant for Dale Kruse, Little Rock, Iowa. Kruse proposes to expand the pit by 2 acres. Concerns were presented by neighboring landowners about the amount of dust generated by the pit.

* A conditional use permit was approved for the construction of a 75-foot diameter open concrete manure storage area for Andy Wieneke. The project will correct an existing pollution hazard and will be paid for in part through cost-share dollars provided by the Nobles County SWCD.

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Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at http://throughthelookingglass.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7322
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