Dairy expansion in Wabasha County clears next hurdle

March 2, 2019

WABASHA — It’s a tale of two feedlot expansions.

Monday night, the Wabasha County Planning Commission held a public hearing as it considered a recommendation for a conditional-use permit application from Scotch Prairie Farms south of Lake City.

After hearing from 11 speakers, nearly evenly split between those for and against the project, the commissioners voted 3-1 to approve a recommendation for the CUP. Commission Member Gayle Gillespie was not present, and Commission Member Jeanne Pietig voted no. The issue now moves before the full county board of commissioners at its March 5 meeting.

“This is the only scheduled public hearing,” Wabasha County Planning Director Kevin Krause said.

The planned expansion would more than triple the size of the dairy, which is currently permitted to house up to 600 mature dairy cows, 141 dairy heifers and 300 dairy calves (998.7 animal units).

The handful or so of people speaking on each side of the proposal was a far cry from the 40 people who spoke at a packed Tau Center in Winona regarding a similar feedlot expansion proposal last week.

Barbara Sogn-Frank, a policy program organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, an organization that has battled the Daley Farms expansion in Lewiston, said the group had only recently heard from members about Scotch Prairie.

“We respond to the best of our abilities when our members let us know they have a concern,” Sogn-Frank said.

Of the 23 people who spoke against the Daley proposal, many were LSP members expressing concern over the area’s karst geology and the possibility of nitrates contaminating the groundwater. Those things also apply to the Scotch Prairie expansion.

George Meyer was one of the six people to speak against the Scotch Prairie project on Monday. He told the planning commission that he plans to ask the county board to install an animal unit cap similar to the one in Winona County. Currently, feedlots in Wabasha County require a conditional-use permit when exceeding 500 animal units.

“All we’re trying to do is protect the people here and the water,” Meyer said. “We’re hugely concerned about the nitrate levels.”

Meyer’s well has a nitrate reading of 3 parts per million, he said, well below the 10 ppm threshold the state Department of Health says would be of concern.

According to the Township Testing Program being run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Glasgow Township, where Meyer lives, shows 10.8 percent of wells with nitrate levels above 10 ppm. West Albany Township, where the Scotch Prairie dairy is located, shows 29.7 percent of wells above the 10 ppm standard.

Brian Yotter, owner of Scotch Prairie Farms, said concerns his expansion will add pollution are unfounded.

“We’re highly regulated,” he said. “We’ll be regulated and inspected yearly, which you don’t get with these 300 animal dairies.”

Further, he plans to use cover crops on his land, limit manure application to days where it’s 50 degrees or warmer, use nitrogen binders in the soil and other steps to reduce nitrates reaching to the groundwater.

“We’re going way above and beyond the requirements,” he said.

The Wabasha County Board will make a final vote on the conditional-use permit for the Scotch Prairie expansion on March 5. Board Chairman Don Springer said that with no public hearing scheduled, anyone planning to talk about the proposal will be limited to the general public comment portion of the meeting.

“We’ll let them speak, two to three minutes apiece,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to go on for hours, that’s what (Monday) was for.”

Springer added that, as elected officials, the county board is always interested in listening to the people who elect them, “but they’ve had plenty of opportunities.”

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