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Judge to determine if county wrongfully denied permit

April 20, 2018

Written arguments are being submitted to determine if the Gage County Board of Supervisors wrongfully denied a permit for an anhydrous ammonia operation last year.

Holtmeier Brothers Inc. filed a claim last April in Gage County District Court after its permit to build anhydrous ammonia tanks in Gage County was rejected by the County Board in last March.

A hearing was held Friday in Gage County District Court where Judge Julie Smith said she’ll take the issue under advisement once both sides have submitted written arguments in the next 30 days.

Gage County Attorney Roger Harris said at the hearing that the County Board followed its process when considering the permit last year.

“This is a classic example of urban meeting rural and what land use, planning and zoning regulations are all about,” he said. “At times it gets rather heated in a situation like this, but the process is designed to bring people together in a public hearing so that impartial boards can make decisions.”

The County Board voted 3-4 to reject the special use permit for two 30,000-gallon tanks, a scale and outbuilding located five miles west of Beatrice and two miles north of Ellis on 117th Road.

Anhydrous ammonia is a source of nitrogen fertilizer, widely used in the area for its efficiency.

The board rejected the permit, despite the fact that the operation met all setback requirements, following an outcry from area residents concerned about their safety in the event of a leak, damage to the roads and even potential theft of the chemical by drug manufacturers.

Zoning regulations required the tanks to be 50 feet from property lines and structures and 450 feet from public assembly places and rail lines, but the regulations don’t stipulate a distance from neighboring residences. There are six residents within a half mile of the proposed site, and 12 within a mile.

Planning and Zoning unanimously approved the permit to the County Board for approval.

It was stated during a public hearing that regular training will be held for those working with the tanks, and that the total 60,000-gallon capacity is a relatively small operation that would be the equivalent of around three semi truck loads.