State agency supports reversal of ruling
By Tim Ruzek
A state agency wants to file a brief supporting a reversal of a Mower County judge’s ruling in February related to a controversial feedlot in Lyle Township.
Robert Roche, an assistant state attorney general, filed a request April 9 with the Minnesota Court of Appeals for the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, a state agency, to file a legal brief in the matter before the appellate court.
A citizens group from Lyle Township is appealing Mower District Judge Donald E. Rysavy’s ruling, which found the local permits for a major hog feedlot were obtained legally.
The plaintiffs argue that the county documents approved for Lowell Franzen, who was Mower County’s only feedlot officer at the time and later sold the land to Santos Group for the feedlot, should be revoked because they were final government decisions not allowed to be made before a state environmental assessment worksheet on the proposed feedlot. The county and Franzen reached a settlement for him to leave his job earlier this year. Franzen has not responded to requests for comment.
In his ruling, Rysavy stated, however, the feedlot couldn’t begin operations until getting approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and obtaining a state permit. Franzen received that a year ago and transferred it to Santos Group in April 2007.
The judge granted the hog producer Santos Group’s motion for a summary judgment in its favor and dismissed the Northfield-based hog producer from the lawsuit.
The environmental board, which enforces the state’s environmental review statutes and rules, is interested in ensuring that both the courts and governmental units "understand and properly apply the environmental review rule at issue in this case," Roche wrote.
Roche is asking the appellate court to grant the environmental board’s request for a leave to be "amicus curiae," or a friend of the court, to give information.
If granted, the environmental agency will file a legal brief supporting the reversal of Rysavy’s holding that, if a project must obtain a series of governmental approvals, then the prohibition on final government decisions only applies to the last approval in that series, Roche said.
The environmental board is in a position to give a broader perspective of the legal and policy issues raised by the lower court’s decision, Roche stated.
The plaintiffs’ damage claims are ongoing against Mower County and Franzen.
The plaintiffs allege the 55-year-old Franzen illegally got approval for his own 14-acre feedlot proposal, misrepresented his plan for the operation in the permitting process and sold it to Santos Group, a major hog producer from Northfield, for more than $240,000 above the land's market value. The sale last year was two weeks after the state approved a feedlot permit for Franzen.
Santos Group built a $6.5 million hog operation, with plans for a 4,064-sow gestation barn and a farrowing barn for up to 768 sows and 1,280 nursery pigs.