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County displeased with manure spill, length of time to clean it up

WORTHINGTON -- With a recommendation from the Nobles County Planning Commission to grant a conditional use permit to Randy Wiertsema to keep a manure stockpile in place until after harvest, the Nobles County Board of Commissioners appeared to reluctantly grant the permit during the meeting Tuesday.

0 Talk about it

The 20- to 25-ton manure stockpile, located in Section 25 of Little Rock Township, was compromised by spring rains and reached a nearby gravel pit pond. Since the manure spill incident, Wiertsema created a berm around the stockpile to stop any liquefied manure from reaching the pond.

In early July, the Planning Commission approved Wiertsema's request for a conditional use permit to keep the stockpile in place. Conditions set by the commission include that the manure be spread within 30 days after the crop is harvested; that the berm be checked anytime there is an inch or more of rainfall; and that the contractor with the permit for the gravel provide at least two weeks notice to Wiertsema if gravel is needed to be mined from the site.

Commissioner Marv Zylstra questioned Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith on the decision of the planning commission.

"We work hard, and we spend a lot of money to protect our waters," Zylstra said. "Here we're leaving this manure pile ... we're intentionally putting ourselves at risk with this manure pile.

"I have some real issues on why we didn't get this thing cleaned up right away," he added. "We are still potentially 60 days out from harvest, and you've given him another 30 days to get things cleaned out."

Commissioner Gene Metz said the contractor has also been put in a "tough spot" if he wants to mine gravel from the site.

"It's making him look like the bad guy if he's got to get the gravel out," Metz said. "There were a lot of things done wrong with this whole thing to start with."

Board chairman Bob Demuth Jr., who attended the planning commission meeting where the recommendation was made to allow the stockpile to remain in place, said, "Sometimes you just have to play the cards you're dealt. It's an after-the-fact request. A lesson was learned."

Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz clarified for the board the request that was made to the Planning Commission.

"The question before them was not to require the pile be moved, but that conditions be placed on it to keep it there," she said.

Smith said there aren't "very many teeth" to enforcing rules for manure storage, adding that the producer put the manure in a bad area, although it was a legally conforming area -- far enough away from the water and from the road.

"Then we had a natural event -- the rain came," Smith said. "Now it's an act of God, and he's out of compliance.

"The rules say if you can't conform to the rules, his next legal option is to go through this process -- to ask for a conditional use permit," he added.

Smith told the board if they wanted to deny the conditional use permit, they could do so and give Wiertsema "so many days to remove it."

Zylstra said he wanted to raise his issues so the county doesn't have this happen again.

Commissioner Matt Widboom asked if more could be done to ensure it doesn't happen.

"If we want to put some ramifications behind this, we'd need to say if he wants to have any stockpiles in the future, we're going to have to OK any future requests," Widboom said. "We need to do something, and we're not, to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Metz said he thought the county's rules were strong enough, but he said awareness of the rules is a problem.

There's a weak point in that individuals who get manure don't have to go through the manure applicator's permit process, he said.

Zylstra said he would reluctantly support the planning commission's recommendation to allow the stockpile to remain in place, but he asked Smith to monitor the situation closely and see if there's any way to get the manure spread onto crop ground before the 30-day post-harvest deadline is reached. The board then unanimously approved the conditional use permit.

The board also approved recommendations from the planning commission for Dale Kruse, of Little Rock, to continue operation of Nobles County's largest gravel pit, located in Section 35, Little Rock Township; for Andy Wieneke of Lismore to construct a 75-foot diameter open concrete manure structure in Section 5, Larkin Township for storage of hog manure; and for Doug Buntjer, Bigelow Township, to operate a feedlot under an interim permit and feedlot license for 24 months as plans are implemented to improve a possible pollution problem on his site near Lake Ocheda.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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