AUSTIN EDITION Feedlot petition rule changes today

By Lenora Chu

The word manure conjures up images of nutrient-rich crop fertilizer for some and smelly cow pies for others.

Scott Glarner, who lives in Dodge County's Milton Township, sees manure as a potentially dangerous substance that could be contaminating his family's well water, which he says has tested positive for nitrates and bacteria.

Glarner and 35 neighbors are concerned that a proposed hog feedlot operation, which would be located roughly 800 feet from the closest home, could further damage the area's environmental quality.


The group filed a lawsuit against the county board Friday for its 3-2 decision earlier in the week to reject the group's request for an in-depth environmental impact review of the operation. The board had also voted with the same 3-2 split to grant a permit to the feedlot operator and greenlight the project.

Glarner said the board's decision not to order an environmental impact statement was based on incomplete data about the region's karst geology, which is prone to developing sinkholes that can serve as a fast conduit between feedlot manure and groundwater.

"The county ignored our water samples during the permitting process," said Glarner, who also contended that reviewers checked the land for sinkholes at 100-foot intervals, too large to detect a developing sinkhole.

"They basically brushed (our concerns) under the rug and ignored it," Glarner said. County officials declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.

The seeds for the Milton Township residents' court challenge began more than a year ago with a petition process that allows citizens with at least 25 signatures to request an environmental assessment for feedlots with 300 "animal units" or more.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, with the assistance of the county in question, typically evaluates the petitioners' reasons and either orders the review or denies the request.

But that law changes today in favor of feedlot owners. This year the Legislature voted to raise the threshold so that in most cases, citizens' right to petition is applicable only to feedlots with more than 1,000 animal units -- roughly equivalent to 3,300 hogs, 1,000 heads of beef cattle or 712 dairy cows.

The change makes operations similar to the Dodge County feedlot, which is proposed for 960 animal units, untouchable by the petition process.


Environmentalists say the new law strips citizens of a basic right and the ability to voice legitimate concerns about large feedlots planned for their neighborhoods.

In the Dodge County scenario, the residents were able to use the petition process to force an otherwise unresponsive county and the PCA to listen to their concerns, said Bobby King, a policy organizer at the Land Stewardship Project.

"But the (new law) puts the interests of large corporate businesses like Land O' Lakes over the rights of residents," King said. "It's going to be a lot easier for large corporate farmers to move into communities."

King also said studies have shown most petitions are brought by local residents and not the "environmental activists" whom supporters of the new law claimed were stopping projects for whimsical reasons.

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