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Road maintenance concerns raised during hearing for new livestock facility

WORTHINGTON — Nick Henning’s requests to construct two 2,400-head swine barns in Graham Lakes Township drew considerable discussion during both the Nobles County Board of Adjustment and subsequent Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night in Worthington.

After earning a variance to build the barns 95 feet closer to the center of a township gravel road during a 4 p.m. meeting, Henning went before the 7 p.m. planning and zoning meeting seeking a conditional use permit. The permit is required for any livestock site over 1,000 animal units.

At the later meeting, the creation of a road maintenance agreement between the township and Henning drew some contention.

Several Graham Lakes Township supervisors were in attendance, and they said if the commission failed to require a road maintenance agreement as a condition of the permit, they would have no teeth if there are issues with the farmer.

Supervisor Jay Clarke said the roads in that area are already marginal because of the slough. He handed out copies of a township road agreement and said the supervisors were willing to sign it during the meeting if Henning was in agreement.

The agreement stated Henning would need to work with the township on any maintenance above what is considered normal. It also requested township roads be restored to original condition after construction of the barns is completed, and asked that Henning keep the road clear of mud and manure and follow the rules of the road for the life of the barns.

The Hennings said if the two sides couldn’t come to terms on a road maintenance agreement, and it was a condition of the permit, the township would then in essence be vetoing the project.

Nobles County Planning and Zoning Administrator Kathy Henderschiedt said township road agreements are brought up frequently in statewide discussions.

“In Murray County, this is just standard for livestock facilities,” she told the commission. “The townships and the producers here (in Nobles County) seem to be working it out among themselves and we haven’t been brought into the middle of it.”

Commission member Dave Thier, after seeing the agreement, said he wouldn’t have a problem signing it.

“The township has requested it, maybe it’s OK to go along with it,” he said.

Clarke said the township wasn’t looking to stop the permit process, but road maintenance has become a “bigger cat.” As a sheriff’s deputy, he said he’s seen roads with thousands of dollars of damage, and the amount of property tax livestock facilities generate is very minimal.

“It’s enough maybe for a couple of loads of gravel,” Clarke said.

Commission member Dick Schlichte said he was concerned about making the road agreement a condition of the permit, and viewed taking the action on this permit as setting precedent.

“Then every other township will be in here in the future asking for the same thing,” Schlichte said.

Clarke said townships are already being encouraged to have road maintenance agreements.

“They’re recommending this agreement or the township has no leg to stand on,” Clarke said, adding that townships can’t afford to be stuck with a $10,000 bill to repair damage to their gravel roads.

Commission member Marv Zylstra recommended to the Graham Lakes Township supervisors that they work on a universal road agreement to avoid having 20 different road agreement forms in Nobles County.

Meanwhile, John Penning, chairman of the planning commission, suggested the Hennings and Graham Lakes Township work out an agreement and said, “We don’t know as a board that we want to make this a necessary thing.”

In the end, the commission did not include the road maintenance agreement as a condition of the permit. However, it told the Graham Lakes Township supervisors they can only make a recommendation to the Nobles County Board. If they want, they can take up their issue with county commissioners when the permit request goes before the board at 9 a.m. March 20.

Conditions set on Henning’s permit include that a dead animal containment area be established and that the site be constructed to plans and specifications.

In other action, the commission:

  • Granted initial approval of a conditional use permit for Ryan Thier, owner of R&R Thier Feedlots, to construct a second 67- by 1,432-foot total confinement cattle barn, with a concrete pit below, at 19592 260th St., Rushmore.

The new barn will be identical to the existing barn. Once completed, the site will house up to 6,000 head of feeder cattle.

Nobles County commissioners will consider the recommendation at the March 20 board meeting.

  • Gave initial approval for Tom Volk, Brewster, to obtain a conditional use permit to move a 1920s-era home onto property he owns at 13805 Wass Ave., located within a special protection district along East Graham Lake in Section 23, Graham Lakes Township.

Volk and his wife plan to renovate the home.

During public comment, neighbor Tom Wolff said moving in an older home would be a detriment to property values and said new housing only should be required along the lakeshore. If not, he feared the county would end up with “hunting shacks” in the neighborhood.

Henderschiedt said county ordinance does govern the size and type of structures allowed in the special protection district.

Conditions placed on the permit include that work on the project begin within a year and that setback requirements are met. The request will advance to the Nobles County Board’s March 20 meeting.

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 The Farm Bleat

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