Feedlot battles flares up again in Dodge County
The feedlot controversy in Dodge County appears to be sparking again, but this time in a different township.
A lawsuit has been filed in Dodge County District Court involving a proposed feedlot in Ripley Township located on the southern end of the county next to Westfield Township where the controversy has been swirling for years.
Lowell and Evelyn Trom of rural Blooming Prairie are suing Ripley Township, Ripley Township Board of Adjustments and Appeals, and Timothy and Jennifer Langdon of Cannon Falls. The Langdons are attempting to build a swine factory farm in Ripley Township, which would be the 12th swine factory farm in a three mile radius of the Trom farm.
In their lawsuit, the Troms claim Ripley Township failed and refused to enforce Township Zoning Ordinances requiring public notice and complete application information.
The Troms allege the township improperly granted a variance and conditional use permit for the proposed project consisting of 2,400 hogs on the border of Ripley and Westfield townships.
The township, according to the Trom’s suit, ignored a 22-page letter and extensive supporting documentation provided by the Troms and several others concerning the serious public health and environmental issues related to factory farms.
The Troms claim the township ordinance requires a minimum of 7.5 acres for feedlots for 10 to 100 animal units. The Langdon 5-acre parcel is limited to fewer than 10 animal units, or 33 hogs on their property, not 720 animal units or 2,400 hogs as requested and approved by the township, according to the Troms.
“This is payback,” said Sonja Trom Eayrs, daughter of Lowell and Evelyn, of the lawsuit. “My parents have spent their entire life working the land and building their farm operation. This is a way to force them off their farm. We are not leaving,” she said.
Trom Eayrs said her family is tired of being targeted by big ag. “We’ve been targeted by corporate interests and their cronies who have corporate interests,” she said. She noted big ag looks for vulnerable people to put up as many swine operations as possible in southern Minnesota.
She feels that the efforts to put swine factory farms all over are “back firing on the industry.” Trom Eayrs claims the rules keep changing every time a feedlot is proposed to county and township officials. “They are digging their own grave,” she said. “They can run, but they can’t hide,” she added.
Trom Eayrs said the lesson everyone should learn is that her family is not going away. “The harder they want to push, the harder we’re going to push back and let the world know what’s happening in rural America,” she said.
She pointed out that her organization, Dodge County Concerned Citizens, reached out to the Langdons to purchase their 5-acre farm, but they got no response.
The current issue flared up in December when Ripley Township met to consider Langdon’s proposal. At a township meeting, it was revealed officials failed to act on the application in a timely manner, and a little known law called “60-day Rule” would be invoked. The law provides that when a governmental agency fails to act on items like zoning requests within 60 days, it creates automatic approval of the request. The original request had been filed on July 5, well beyond 60 days of the December meeting.
Attorney Donald Savelkoul, who represents the Langdons, said the township granted a conditional use permit and variance in February. “It gives them the authority to start construction,” Savelkoul said, adding that proper building permits still need to be obtained.
Savelhoul said construction on Langdon’s feedlot would like start in spring once the ground thaws.
However, in last week’s lawsuit, the Troms are asking the court to reverse and vacate the conditional use permit, which, if granted, would prohibit the Langdons from moving ahead with the project.
The township and the Langdons have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. Ripley will most likely be assigned an attorney through the state township association. Savelkoul said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit when contacted late last week other than knowing it had been filed.
Efforts to reach township officials were unsuccessful.
Fighting large feedlot operations is nothing new for the Troms. In 2014, they began a lengthy court battle involving a feedlot operation in Westfield Township. The legal fight finally ended last year with the Minnesota Supreme Court denying to take on the matter.