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Daley Farm faces new BOA hearing on proposed expansion

A judge ruled the previous decision against the Daleys was biased because members of the Board of Adjustments at the time had prejudged the case.

Ben Daley Photo.jpg
Ben Daley, an owner and operator at Daley Farms near Lewiston, is shown in this 2019 file photo. A new Winona County Board of Adjustments hearing has been scheduled to hear a request for a waiver from the county's animal unit cap of 1,500 AU. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin file photo
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WINONA — The Daley Farm saga has come full circle.

At 1 p.m. on Dec. 2, the Winona County Board of Adjustments will once again hear a request from the Lewiston-based dairy for a waiver of the county's animal unit cap in order to expand its dairy operations from 1,996.4 animal units to 5,967.7 AUs. That means going from about 1,400 cows to about 4,200 cows. The county has an animal unit cap of 1,500 AU for feedlots.

The hearing will be held at the Riverport Conference and Event Center, 900 Bruski Drive in Winona.

The BOA heard the Daleys' waiver request in February 2019, but the decision to decline the request was reversed and remanded back to the BOA by 1st Judicial District Judge Kevin F. Mark, who called the bias cooked into the BOA at the time "so severely tainted."

That bias came from BOA members who had spoken out against the Daley proposal at public hearings.

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While the membership of the BOA has changed, there is still one member who spoke out against the project on multiple occasions. BOA chairman Robert Redig testified at public hearings against the Daley's project.

Ben Daley, one of the owners of Daley Farm, said Redig should recuse himself from discussing and voting on the waiver request.

"He’s spoken out against our farm," Daley said.

Meanwhile, the project has wide support across the county. With the exception of the city of Winona, every township board and city council voted to send letters of support for the Daley Farm project proposal.

"It seems really strange that the so few people who are against this project are in all the right places – the Board of Adjustments, the Planning Commission, the county commissioners – that make it really difficult," Daley said.

Daley said he believes the waiver request will come down to a 2-2 vote, meaning the request will fail. Instead, he'd prefer Redig step down so an unbiased individual can sit on the board during the hearing next month.

The other members of the BOA are Jordan Potter, Kelsey Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Heublein and Philip Schwantz. Only Schwantz was on the BOA in February 2019, and he voted in favor of the Daleys' proposal.

Those other individuals were approved by the same Winona County Board of Commissioners that voted to stack the board with opponents to the Daley Farm project. In fact, emails obtained by the Daleys' attorney showed collusion among three county commissioners – Greg Olson, Marie Kovecsi and Chris Meyer, who was a commissioner-elect at the time – to place individuals who had connections to the Land Stewardship Project on the BOA to vote against the Daleys.

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Assistant Winona County Attorney Stephanie Nuttall said the BOA members will again be reminded of their duty to recuse themselves if they hold a bias and have prejudged the case.

For example, she said while each BOA member will make his or her own decision on recusal, she expects that Redig will step aside for the meeting on Dec. 2.

Winona County Commissioner Marcia Ward, whose district encompasses Daley Farm, said while the BOA membership has changed, she's not certain the philosophy of its members has changed.

Marcia Ward Winona County Commissioner
Marcia Ward

A bigger issue, Ward said, is the animal unit cap itself.

“There was a cap put on with no science," Ward said. "I’d like us to have a discussion on the cap. We need that discussion to happen to see if we can get that number changed. There’s got to be some science and some modern agriculture practices taken into account, and we just haven’t done that."

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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