Codington County ponders huge chicken CAFO

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Farm Forum

Saying it didn’t have enough information to fully approve the plan, but with enough information that it didn’t want to table it, the Codington County Plan Commission approved a motion dealing with a proposed CAFO south of Watertown.

Dale Tesch brought forward plans for a 14,000-unit CAFO, with his intention to work with a company that would establish a 1.4 million chicken operation, with the chance to expand to 4 million.

Commission chair Bob Fox brought up the notion of a substitute motion saying:

• The board acknowledges the site meets the set backs

• The approval is not construed as implied approval of the full plan

• The applicant has one year to submit additional materials required by the zoning ordinance, after which time a public hearing will be held

• If an application is made during that year for a building permit in the setback of the property, the applicant for the building permit understands that the site does meet the setbacks

Tesch addressed the board. He touted the technology advancements of the proposal.

“You won’t see or smell the manure,” he said.

Courtney Livingston spoke in support of the motion, saying it gives the board more time to investigate the ramifications of the site.

“This is rural country and we need the economics of these things,” he said.

A total of nine people who were against the plan also addressed the board.

Terry Little, who lives to the north and east of the land in question, said there is an option in place to sell and pointed to the ongoing dispute in Turner County over a poultry operation.

Terry Little and Gordon Little said they were against handling the move with the approved motion.

Terry Little talked about how many affected neighbors are in the vicinity of the property. He said taking the motion through this first step in the process ends the rights of neighbors’ to fight it.

“You used the word ‘trigger’,” Gordon Little said. “I think that’s appropriate. As soon as you approve this motion, there’s probably nothing you can do to stop this project.”

Later, Gordon Little said, even if it wasn’t the board’s intent, it was a ‘Trojan horse motion.’

“It’s changing from a 600 (animal unit operation) to a 14,000 CAFO,” he said. It’s absolutely an approval of 14,000 units.

“We really need to table this and think about it.”

Terry Eggerstrom talked about the unknowns. He said he sees that it meets the setbacks “but 14,000 units is an awful lot of animal units in one location.”

“It doesn’t seem like a great thing for the environment,” he added. “By getting it approved, it’s more inflation for the landowner based on the fact that it barely meets the setback requirements.”

Fox said the county could end up with litigation on its hands regardless of its decision.

He said when it comes to something this large, though not many are, the board has historically been friendly to livestock agriculture but found itself in a gray area.

“Most are local family farmers in the area,” he explained. “This is way over what we generally work with. But we do have enough information that, if we deny it, we’re in court right away.”

Tesch followed up following hearing the public comments.

“There are a lot of pluses to this,” he said.

Before the vote, board members said support emanated from the motion preserving the setbacks for the year and advertising a public hearing to review the full request.