Neighbors still protesting hog facility

Emotions ran high at the latest meeting over a hog-buying station on Highway 251, and there was little the Mower County board could do, according to county officials. But not if you believe the outspoken homeowners protesting Leonard Grant of L&A Pork and Lynch Livestock’s hog-buying station.

A group of more than 15 homeowners brought a petition with 142 signatures to the county board Tuesday to request an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, which would gauge whether the land of the proposed site is near a wetland and stream.

According to Environmental Services Director Angie Knish and county attorney Kristen Nelsen, the county board had few legal options for action Tuesday. The site is exempt from an EAW, because there is not a recognized wetland or a stream on the land. And since the county board approved a conditional use permit for Grant to operate a hog-buying station last October, Nelsen said, the board could not legally reverse that decision.

“That’s permitted,” Nelsen said of Grant’s feedlot. “That CUP has been granted. You can’t revisit that.”

Grant reduced the size of his hog-buying facility from 720 animal units to 360 animal units, and Nelsen said the board could only debate if the change in size would have any adverse effects when it came to the CUP.

The homeowners insisted the land was not exempt from an EAW, as it is a wetland with peat soil and Spring Creek runs near the hog-buying station’s future location. Warren and Lanita Smith live near the area, and they said the site is a low spot where water pools after heavy rains and in the winter.

This time of year, they said the wet areas make for a destination for migrating birds.

“Once this area is filled in, it’s forever — it can never be replaced,” Lanita said.

Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Executive Director Larry Dolphin agreed.

“It is a place for them to stop on their journey to wherever they’re going,” he said.

Dolphin said such wet areas often aren’t considered wetlands, so it’s difficult to get them protected.

Despite claims the area is a wetland, Knish said, soil testing shows the land is made of types of clay and sand soil — not peat. She also said there are no recognized streams and wetlands in that area.

“There are no identified springs within that area,” Knish said.

The county goes by a geographical survey that identifies all the waterways in the county. While the original survey was completed in 1979, the surveys are updated. Knish said the stream in question has never been recognized by these surveys and it likely never would be in the future.

The protesting property owners vehemently disagreed, repeatedly interrupting counting officials explanations by saying things like, “That’s not true.”

Board members asked Lanita to be quiet and let county officials speak at least three times, as she repeatedly interrupted discussions.

“Our public comments are over,” commissioner Mike Ankeny told her at one point.

That didn’t stop her, as she soon continued by urging the board by saying, “But get it right.”

The county board voted 4-1 against requiring an EAW, with Tim Gabrielson dissenting. Gabrielson said he made a mistake voting for the conditional use permit in the first place, which drew applause from the crowd. The land is Gabrielson’s district.

After the meeting, some in the audience questioned if Nelsen swayed the board to vote against the project.

In a statement after the meeting, Nelsen insisted she never tells the board how to vote; rather, she provides them neutral information and legal opinions about rules the board must follow.

“Never, ever have I told a commissioner how to vote,” she said.

The petition was just the latest in a long battle between Grant and his Udulpho Township neighbors. The site was initially to be a feedlot, but later was changed to a hog-buying station. Neighboring homeowners have long protested the project, stating a buying station would bring much more traffic and many more animals coming in and out. Homeowners also argue the site is a poor spot for the station because it is low and prone to flooding.

Most of the animals at the facility would be hogs that didn’t fit the criteria to sell to Hormel Foods Corp.

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