Neighbors squeal in protest over planned hog lots

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2003

The Freeborn County Planning and Zoning Board decided Monday that residents in Geneva and Moscow will have have to deal with the smell of pigs, and approved two permits for hog farms in Geneva and an expanded one in Moscow. The county commission still must approve the items.

Before the vote for each permit, officials noted that the plans met county ordinances, which include a quarter-mile setback from neighboring property. It left them little choice.

But at the heart of the argument Monday night also lay the problems of residents dealing with the economic reality of living in a farming community and the problems that go with that.

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&uot;Freeborn County cannot support itself without agriculture,&uot; said Wayne Sorensen, Freeborn County planning and zoning adminstrator. &uot;The one viable concern is the smell. The only way to deal with that is to make farming so economically difficult that it can’t happen.&uot;

Each township had both different and similar problems with the possible farms.

For Moscow, residents say the expansion of a farm may jeopardize non-agricultural business.

Karen Brand, who serves on the board for Moscow Township, said that speaking as a resident, the smell of an expanded hog farm of 4,000 swine would be bad for business and may discourage further development of large houses in the township. She noted the $2,500 in property taxes that a new large house brings in. She also said the business for an ATV trail and a possible dog kennel might be hurt. She said the township is not opposed to business, but Gary Braaten, the farmer who wants to expand his farm from 2,000 to 4,000 swine, &uot;has chosen a business at the expense of everyone else.&uot;

County Board member Glen Mathiason noted that the money spent on feed and other farm-related expenses has a positive impact on the economy. But Brand said that the residents of the large houses do as well.

John Ulland, who has a pumpkin and strawberry patch, said that at times the current farm has led his customers to leave without buying anything. &uot;They say word of mouth is the best advertising. Are (customers) going to tell people to go down to Ulland’s and have a good wiff?&uot; he said.

He also had concerns about the increased traffic and the danger on the smaller roads.

Braaten said the expansion would help out his son and son-in-law carry out a family tradition. &uot;I’m not trying to make my neighbors angry, but I feel responsible to the next generation,&uot; he said.

For Geneva, some of the angst surrounded the smell, the possibility of lower property values, and the fact that many people weren’t spoken to by the farmer, Brad Johnson, who won’t live on site.

Johnson explained that he talked to some neighbors and wondered where he had to draw the line. But several board members noted that a meeting and some more communication would have helped the situation.

Meghan Voss, who lives less than a mile away from the possible site, complained about not being notified personally. She worried about manure runoff joining the water that floods her basement periodically.

Floran Peters of Freeborn County Enviromental Services said that it’s unlikely, but possible. He said generally, farmers inject manure into the ground in the fall when rainfall isn’t as heavy.

He also said that according to a study by the University of Minnesota, the maximum amount of noticeable smell from the farm would add up to nine hours a month.

But Cheryl Sauke who lives by the farm site, had worried that the smell would trigger an asthma attack, possibly a fatal one. &uot;I’ll be trapped in my house because of a hog farm (Johnson) isn’t living on,&uot; she said. She said she worried Johnson would be less than diligent in taking care of smell he didn’t have to live on.

Johnson explained that he is already living on a nearby farm.

Property values were another concern. Voss’ neighbor, Sandy Becker, worried that property values would go down. &uot;You find me people whose ideal home is next to a hog farm,&uot; she said. Sorensen responed that it would be hard to prove that hog farms hurt property values.

There was some frustration that the meeting process favored approval, since the plans met ordinances. They said most likely, the county board will pass the measures, although they don’t always pass such motions.