WORTHINGTON - It was standing-room only Wednesday night at the Nobles County Public Works facility in Worthington, where a public hearing was conducted on a proposed swine nursery barn within a mile of Rushmore’s city limits.
Nearly all of the comments about bad odor wafting through town weren’t directed at the family farming operation seeking a permit to construct a second barn, but rather at a cattle producer seated on the county’s Planning Commission.
Michael Hoffman appeared before the commission Wednesday evening requesting a conditional use permit to construct an 82- by 205-foot swine nursery barn in the northwest quarter of Section 29, Dewald Township. The barn is proposed to be built just east of an existing nursery barn on the site. The farm site is owned by Hoffman’s in-laws, Donald and Kris Brink.
Numerous residents from the city of Rushmore attended the meeting, and Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith reported receiving two letters and seven phone calls about the proposed project. Feedlot Officer Alan Langseth received five phone calls.
All of the phone calls were from residents of Rushmore stating concerns about livestock odor already present in the community. Some had requested Hoffman take measures to reduce the amount of smell that could come from the facility.
Among the letters received was one from the Rushmore City Council, stating that “on behalf of the residents of Rushmore, the City Council is concerned about odor from another hog nursery that is proposed to be built within one mile of Rushmore.
“The citizens of Rushmore are currently subjected to manure odors from other livestock operations in the area. At times, with the right weather and wind conditions, these odors keep Rushmore residents from enjoying their yards.”
The letter went on to ask if odor-reducing products could be used if the new building was to be constructed.
The second letter asked how the new barn might impact air and water quality, property values and the ability for people who live in Rushmore to enjoy the outdoors.
“We chose to live in a rural ag area. We know we are going to have to deal with the sights, sounds and smells of the area,” wrote Barry Hinsperger. “The people of Rushmore ‘CHOSE CITY LIFE.’”
When the hearing was opened for public comment, Lori Gravenhof stood up and told Planning Commission members “the smell in Rushmore is bad.”
“We know where the cattle smell comes from,” she said. “I just think everybody’s afraid it’s just like (Dave) Thier’s, that kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Gravenhof said people from Rushmore spoke out against the Dave Thier feedlot when that request came before the commission and “you didn’t listen to what we said. Everybody tried telling you that night.
“You decide what you think is good for Rushmore because it’s just little old Rushmore,” Gravenhof said. “It’s not right.”
Kurt Mulder, who lives a mile east of the Brink farm, tried to bring discussion back to the request on the table. He said Don Brink hauls manure through his own property, never using the county road, and the manure is knifed in.
“I smell smells, too, but it’s not from Don Brink (farm). That’s the issue tonight,” Mulder said.
Jason Hieronimus backed up Mulder’s statement. “These people are just trying to make a living and remain in this small community,” he said.
“It’s so hard to keep these small communities going that we need to do all we can to make it an agricultural community,” Hieronimus said. “Nursery pigs don’t give off the same odor as a 2,400-head finisher. Tonight we’re here to discuss a hog barn, not a cattle barn.”
Hieronimus reminded those in attendance that the first barn on the Brink site was constructed in 1999, and there have been no odor complaints from that site.
“I can’t understand why people can’t see what’s going on - they’re doing a very good job,” he said. “There’s a lot of issues we have in Rushmore besides the odor. We have rundown property, crime and drugs and here we are fighting about a hog barn - it’s not right.”
Don Brink also made comments during the public hearing, addressing what he said were inaccuracies and explaining why the second barn’s location is planned where it is.
“We considered putting it along the east road - that’s where we would have liked it, but we have to consider money,” said Brink, adding that by placing the new barn just east of the existing barn, it would remain in close proximity to propane tanks and generators.
He also explained that the portion of the barn that will house the baby pigs is 82- by 180-feet, and a concrete pit will be located below that area. The remaining space will be for a shop and office area on the north end of the barn.
Brink said he has ample land to handle the manure generated from the barns, that pits would be pumped once per year and the manure would be knifed into the ground. Knifing in manure will help to control odor, and Hoffman said there are plans to use pit additives in the second barn, just as is done in the existing barn.
A tree line along the north side of the property also helps to reduce odor, and Brink said he is mindful of knifing in manure when the wind is from a northerly direction so it isn’t wafting over the community.
“People of Rushmore: if you have a smell, please note the wind direction, then you know where the smell is coming from,” he said.
If the barn is approved, Brink said all of the anticipated 8,000 head of pigs to be housed in the two barns would come in as one group and leave as one group, as requested by the people they custom-feed for.
“This is the only way I can see to help my son-in-law and my daughter stay on the farm,” Brink told the Planning Commission.
Hoffman said he has been farming with his father-in-law for eight years.
“The hog barn is a chance for us to stay active in farming,” he shared, adding that the pigs will come in at about 10 pounds each and leave at about 60 pounds.
Erin Hoffman said she and her husband have been citizens of Rushmore for eight years. She thanked everyone for attending and offering their opinions, positive or negative.
Planning Commission member Mike Hoeft said there seemed to be a consensus among attendees that the Brink-Hoffman operation has been diligent and responsible, and no one in the audience took exception to that statement.
Hoeft then moved to approve the conditional use permit request with the conditions that odor-reduction chemicals be used, trees be planted, manure be incorporated and the good-neighbor policy be adhered to. The commission approved the motion in a unanimous vote.
In other action, the Planning Commission:
- Approved a request from J&H Screen Printing’s owner, Jarett Hanten, of Worthington, for a conditional use permit to construct a 24- by 24-foot addition onto an existing building to operate a home-extended business from his property in the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 15, Lorain Township. Hanten owns and operates a graphic design, screen printing, embroidery and sales business from his home.
- Approved a request from Lane Bullerman and Bullerman Farms, Adrian, for a conditional use permit to construct two 50- by 300-foot calf barns and one 70-by 480-foot calf barn on property in the north half of the northeast quarter of Section 7, Little Rock Township. The additional barns will increase the total number of calves on the farm from 2,770 to 3,890.
All three of the requests will now advance to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners on April 7 for final consideration.