House Bill 1201, which Dakota Rural Action has deemed the worst of the CAFO bills in this year's Legislative Session, heads to Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources this morning at 10:00. HB 1201, the only bill on the committee's agenda, would make it harder for citizens concerned about stink, water contamination, and other damage caused by big livestock feedlots to block such harmful ag-industrial developments in their neighborhoods.

Dakota Rural Action's excellent legislative blog notes that the state, which views farming as nothing but economic development, not land stewardship or community building, goes to great lengths to promote big CAFOs. This post from Meghan Thoreau describes the state's County Site Analysis Program and its focus on Big Ag:

The Program has been under development for the past several years and involves several key players, such as the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, First District Association of Local government, Planning and Development District III, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member and a few others. As it stands today the program is attempting to grow AG related industries through pre-qualifying sites for Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Agriculturally Related Industrial Development (ARID), such as ethanol plants, cheese plants, granaries, and agricultural manufactures alike. The current methodology and analysis applied is very landowner and CAFO-ARID-operator centric, involving the landowners of pre-qualifying sites and operators of CAFO and ARID industries, with no great effort to secure public participation in the selection of sites, nor communities’ or the environment’s interests. (The only environmental factor taken into account is the area within the protected aquifer zone.) [Meghan Thoreau, "South Dakota's County Site Analysis Program," Dakota Rural Action legislative blog, 2015.02.25]

The County Site Analysis Program isn't about helping counties identify good locations for community gardens, farmers markets, or other small-scale agricultural projects that would promote sustainability and local self-sufficiency. The state wants factory farms. The County Site Analysis Program flags land for such development, and now House Bill 1201 seeks to weaken the review process that allows citizens to weigh the pros and cons of dedicating their land and water to meat and milk factories.

The state already gives factory farms numerous advantages. Let's not take away the few remaining advantages citizens have to protect their counties from over-industrialization. Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources, vote no today on HB 1201.

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Dakota Rural Action does not like concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Big feedlots pose a greater risk to land, water, and air quality than other forms of agriculture.

Dakota Rural Action has managed to knock down two bills promoting CAFOs in the 2015 Legislature. House Bill 1173 threatened to make folks who appeal zoning decisions for CAFOs pay for their failed appeals; DRA got that bill hoghoused down to a mere clarification of existing statute. Senate Bill 127 would have weakened South Dakota's Family Farming Act by allowing corporations to own hog farms. DRA members called Pierre enough to get prime sponsor Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion) to pull the plug on his bill.

Now Dakota Rural Action is fighting what it calls the worst of this Session's CAFO bills. House Bill 1201 moves decisions on conditional-use permits from elected county officials to appointed boards of adjustment. It changes the vote threshold for approving conditional use permits from two-thirds to simple majority. Essentially, this bill makes it easier for the state and corporations to push more CAFOs into counties. It ignores the basic parliamentary rule that "suspending the rules," which we do when we allow a CAFO or any other development to break the normal building and environmental rules with a "conditional use," requires something larger than a simple majority vote.

House Local Government passed HB 1201 last Thursday 10–3, with Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) briefly emerging from her GOP confusion and voting with Democratic Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) and Rep. Karen Soli (D-15/Sioux Falls) against the corporate CAFO agenda. DRA is now focused on educating members of the House, who have today and tomorrow to act on HB 1201 before the deadline to send bills to the opposite chamber.

Related Tweeting: Mike Henriksen makes a connection between HB 1201 and South Dakota's declining farm numbers:

Update 10:06 CST: Dakota Rural Action summarizes its opposition to HB 1201 in this open letter to legislators, which DRA invites you to sign:

What the bill really does is this: it takes decision-making power on conditional use permits out of the hands of elected officials and puts it in the hands of appointed boards of adjustment, where the only recourse for an appeal is to go straight to court. It then allows counties to lower the number of votes needed to approve conditional use permits from 4/5 to 3/5, even though all other decisions still require a 4/5 vote. And finally, the bill is the first step in codifying a conditional use site certification program, one which would completely cut out public participation in the siting, review, and approval of conditional uses even though these decisions can have huge impact on surrounding properties, farms, ranches, and businesses [Dakota Rural Action, open letter to South Dakota Legislature, February 2015].

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Graphic of the Week Award goes to Dakota Rural Action for this banner announcing a rally for clean water and democracy:

DRA Voice Vote Values anti-CAFO banner Feb 2015

Dakota Rural Action is holding the "Rally to Protect Our Voice, Our Vote, and Our Values" Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at the Downtown River Greenway Amphitheater (on the Big Sioux between 6th and 8th Streets) in Sioux Falls.

DRA is steamed about three bills that threaten water quality and the people's right to participate in local zoning decisions:

HB 1173 - Introduced by Representative Qualm (R-21) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would penalize citizens appealing land zoning decisions seen as frivolous. Since courts already have the authority to award damages in frivolous or malicious suits (SDCL 15-17-51), this bills is clearly targeted at preventing citizens from challenging zoning decisions made in their county.

SB 127 - Introduced by Senator Rusch (R-17) and Representative Rasmussen (R-17), this bill would create an exemption to South Dakota law allowing non-family farm corporations to own and operate hog confinements in South Dakota.

HB 1201 - Introduced by Representative Mickelson (R-13) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would reduce the number of votes needed on a county board of adjustment to allow a conditional use permit from 4 out of 5 to 3 out of 5, making it easier for CAFOs to get these permits and move forward [Dakota Rural Action, open letter to South Dakota Legislature, 2015.02.03].

You can sign that open letter, too, and let your legislators know you are tired of their facilitation of the corporate colonization of South Dakota. You can also make legislators hear your voice in person: After briefing the troops, DRA will take its rally to Saturday's Legislative Coffees (apparently Sioux Falls is too sophistimacated to call 'em crackerbarrels): Session 1 starts at 9 a.m. with legislators from Districts 6, 9, and 10; Session 2 starts at 10:45 with legislators from Districts 11 and 12. Both public fora are at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown... where DRA will be out in force guardin' your voice and your water.

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Governor Dennis Daugaard's push for more mega-dairies has drawn legal action against Brookings County from Hendricks, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the Hendricks City Council has "filed a lawsuit" against Brookings County to stop the 3,999-head concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) that Michael Crinion wants to build near Oak Lake. Brookings County approved the conditional-use permit for the dairy, over the protest of Hendricks residents who are concerned that manure from the CAFO will drain into Lake Hendricks and degrade water quality.

The lawsuit appears to be an appeal of the zoning decision filed jointly by the Hendricks City Council and the Lake Hendricks Improvement Association on November 3.

Hendricks residents are bent out of shape over this dairy because they may see millions they've invested in clean water go to waste:

The fight for cleaner water in Lake Hendricks started with area farmers converting to lake-friendly land uses on thousands of acres around the lake. They planted 22 miles of buffer strips and other vegetation designed to stop runoff of sediment and nutrients. Together with sewage and stormwater improvements by lake cabin owners and by the surrounding wastewater districts, the cleanup has cost more than $5 million, [Hendricks mayor Jay] Nelson said.

In one recent project, 22 property owners on the South Dakota side of Lake Hendricks and 44 homeowners on the Minnesota side each invested an average of $12,000 in septic improvements, including hookups to the Hendricks city sewer district. Another $1.5 million has been spent on environmental testing and research, the mayor said.

“Our town’s major concern is that we’ve spent millions to clean up our lake, and it’s an unfinished job,” Nelson said. “Any runoff from this dairy would end up in Lake Hendricks” [Tony Kennedy, "The Border War over Cleaned-up Lake Hendricks," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 2014.12.01].

Governor Daugaard's policy man Nathan Sanderson tells the Star-Trib the Oak Lake dairy is just one component of the state's push to double its dairy herd and provide more milk for the new state-subsidized Bel Brands cheese factory in nearby Brookings. He sneers at the Hendricks protesters, "We have an approach in South Dakota where we are open for business.... We’re not attempting to hinder business in any way."

But Hendricks residents see South Dakota hindering their business, which they say relies on clean water:

The location of this dairy, in our opinion, poses a great risk to Lake Hendricks and the surrounding area. The proposed location is within the Deer Creek Watershed District, which is the main supply of new water to Lake Hendricks. The waste management plan for the dairy calls for the continued application of their waste product to surrounding fields—all of which will create additional runoff issues when draining into Lake Hendricks. If this happens, we could see a reduction of water quality in the lake, which in turn will impact tourism, fishing, camping and other recreational and economic benefits that are enjoyed in the area [Lake Hendricks Improvement Association, letter to residents, quoted in Tammy Mathison, "Lake Hendricks Improvement Assoc. Letter Explains Reasons for Appeal," Hendricks Pioneer, 2014.11.28].

South Dakota's push for economic development now butts up against Minnesota's in a battle of milk and poop versus water.

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Jackrabbit Farms, a new 5000-head hog farm south of Mount Vernon, is making a stink:

Neighbor Lyle Reimnitz said company representatives told him before construction that the facility would smell less than 2 percent of the time, and that hasn't been the case.

"I'm going to have to live there. I don't plan on dying any time today," Reimnitz said. "And I will not live with that stench in my yard."

Barry Kerkaert, a veterinarian with facility manager Pipestone System, said officials never promised that Jackrabbit Farms would be odor-free. Pipestone attorney Sean Simpson said the company has done what the county and neighbors have asked, including spending $30,000 on biofilters.

"What I suspect is that we're in a position where we'll never fully satisfy the neighbors of the smell," Simpson said. "Until there's scientific data supporting some of this, we're not just going to spend money every month or year to try to meet these unreasonable requests" ["South Dakota Hog Farm, Neighbors Battle over Smell," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2014.08.14].

Yes, because it's unreasonable to expect a business to live up to its claims and not make life unbearable for its neighbors.

You know, all those service jobs toward which South Dakota's economy is shifting don't emit nearly as many noxious fumes. Maybe instead of expending resources to promote polluting mega-dairies and help counties identify sites for giant, smelly concentrated animal feeding operations like Jackrabbit Farms, the state should consider helping counties attract businesses with less noxious impact on air and water.

By the way, Davison County neighbors, recall that Rep. Kristi Noem showed up at the Jackrabbit Family Farms' opening last year to say the hog lot would be great for family farms and national security. It would be nice if she would as eagerly drop by neighboring houses when the breeze carrying the stench of 5000 pigs' worth of poop imprisons neighbors in their homes. Neighbors, you can extend that invitation to Noem at DakotaFest next week on Tuesday, August 19.

Noem is touring nearby towns already, but she wants to hear about people's frustration with government, not people's frustration with corporations.

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My friends up in Grant County, including Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City), are worried that some Minnesota operators are going to stink up their fair county with a whole bunch of pig poop. Grant County approved Teton "Family" Farms' application for a CAFO permit to build a sow farm that would produce 140,000 piglets a year. Locals appealed the permit, saying Teton included illegal contracts in its application. Opponents also argued in court that the proposed facility posed odor and water pollution risks that the county should not have permitted.

Judge Robert Timm didn't rule on the pigs, the poop, or the permit. He got excited, forgot he's not on the Supreme Court, and declared the law (SDCL Chapter 11-2) under which the permit was approved and appealed unconstitutional!

Yeah, that gets an exclamation point. Maybe I haven't read enough law books (scratch that: I definitely haven't read enough law books), but can anyone show me precedent for a circuit court judge exercising judicial review like this?

Here's the gist: In appeals of CAFO permits and other conditional use decisions, boards of adjustment appointed by county commissions get the benefit of the doubt. Appellants have to prove to the judge that the board screwed up somehow.

But in counties that don't appoint separate boards of adjustment and make zoning decisions at the commission level, appeals of CAFO permits are heard de novo. Both sides present their cases, and the judge decides without any presumption for one side or the other.

Basically, Grant County residents have to jump a higher legal bar to stop a CAFO than residents in other counties that don't have separate boards of adjustment. And that, says Judge Timm, violates the 14th Amendment:

Judge Timm ruled that restricting residents of certain counties to appeal county conditional use permit decisions under the writ of certiorari standard of review violates the Equal Protection clause of the South Dakota Constitution and the United States Constitution [links mine; Debbie Hemmer, "Teton Ruling Delivered; Appeal Will Send Case To Supreme Court," Grant County Review, 2013.08.28, p. 1].

Judge Timm threw another monkey wrench in the pig works by declining to rule on the merits of the permit itself. That delays Teton's sow farm a few more months, as the South Dakota Supreme Court will sort out Judge Timm's constitutional question, then send the whole thing back to him for a ruling on the permit under whichever legal standard its says should apply. If Judge Timm then says the Teton permit passes muster, the sow farm opponents will be able to drag that back to the Supreme Court for a separate appeal on the merits.

In short, thanks to a surprise judicial twist, Kathy Tyler and her neighbors are guaranteed at least a few more months of fresh air.

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Speaking of corporate fascism, big dairies are getting another government handout from South Dakota. Planning and Development District III is spending taxpayer dollars to identify good locations in its 16-county jurisdiction for mega-dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Oops—make that 13 counties. Yankton County is one of three PD3 members with the good sense to say no to doing capitalists' work for them:

Commissioner Allen Sinclair cited such concerns in opposing the idea of PDIII conducting the study on behalf of the state.

“I don’t think that a County Commission should be out there identifying sites for any commercial activity,” he said. “It’s for the people doing the activity to do their own homework. They should be the ones identifying sites. I’m going to have a real problem endorsing a County Commission activity of this nature.”

Sinclair said the County Commission should become only become involved through the zoning process. Even if it is only giving permission for a study, that could be seen by some as an endorsement of sites identified in the research during a zoning dispute in the future.

“It’s a business deal, and the business people behind it, whether they are banks or the Ag Department, can do any type of study they want to do,” Sinclair said. “But don’t involve the County Commission until you’re bringing it to us for a thumbs up or down based on our rules and regulations” [Nathan Johnson, "County Declines to Join in Ag Study," Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2013.07.02].

Our state already spends too many tax dollars to favor a handful of big businesses. Yankton County isn't shutting the door on state-subsidized CAFOs (though it should!), but at least it is telling the big dairy and feedlot operators to do their own market research.

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Rep. Kristi Noem showed up to cheer Big Ag in Davison County Friday. The new "Jackrabbit Family Farm" has no rabbits, and it's not a family farm: it's a corporate factory farm that will house 5,000 sows pumping out 125,000 piglets and $200,000 worth of manure each year.

Rep. Noem thinks that's just great:

Congresswoman Kristi Noem, R-S.D., told farm families gathered Friday at a new swine facility south of Mount Vernon that such production units are a shot in the arm for family farming in South Dakota.

Such production facilities, Noem told her audience, will keep families on the state’s farms and will continue providing for the nation’s food supply [Ross Dolan, "5000-Sow Operation Set to Open Soon near Mount Vernon," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.05.04].

Help me out, farm economists. How does a factory farm make it easier for smaller independent farms to stay in business? Perhaps piglets are costly to raise, and having one CAFO handle birthing the little squealers makes the whole process more efficient. But if some smaller farm in Davison County is making money raising pigs from birth to bacon, doesn't the economy of scale the Jackrabbit CAFO will introduce force those farmers to either do business with Jackrabbit to stay competitive or go under? How does this concentration of wealth and power in the local market support the independence and viability of small local producers?

Rep. Noem can't answer that; she's too busy saving America with Big Ag:

“For me food has always been a national security issue,” Noem said. “There is a reason we have a farm bill and a reason we have farm policy, and that’s because we decide that it’s important in America that we grow our own food.

“The instant that another country supplies us with our food is the day that they control us” [Dolan, 2013.05.04].

Once again, Rep. Noem invokes national security to make her favored capitalists unassailable. She also speaks from somewhere south of honesty. China, Japan, Mexico, the European Union, and everybody else bought $145 billion in food and agricultural exports from us last year, and I don't think we control any of them.

Plus, we're already well past the instant where another country supplies us with our food. In 2012, the United States imported over 62 million metric tons of food worth a record $105 billion, including $16 billion in seafood, $13 billion in fruit, $11 billion in assorted edibles, and $11 billion in beverages. Noem's assertion that we grow our own food and to avoid international control is economically and geopolitically naïve.

Conceptually it also contradicts her assertion about the good the Jackrabbit CAFO will do for family farms. If getting supplies from another economic entity gives that entity control, then won't the local farms who buy piglets from Jackrabbit be submitting to Jackrabbit's control? Which is it, Kristi?

Dolan concludes his story of Noem's bumbling Big-Ag mouthpiecery with this burst of absurdity:

[Pipestone System CEO Luke] Minion presented Noem with a peace pipe as a memento of her visit. American Indians have traditionally mined pipe materials in the Pipestone area.

Asked if she will take the pipe to Washington, she said, “We’ll see what we can do. We can sure use some peace” [Dolan, 2013.05.04].

Rep. Noem gets a present, and she has to "see what we can do" about bringing it back to her Washington office? What, are peace pipes on the TSA terrorist-weapon list? (No, they're not—just don't try to light the pipe in flight!) Can Rep. Noem not give a straight answer to anything? Or was she just discombobulated by the strangeness of a very white dude co-opting a sacred Indian ceremonial object as a cheap political gift? White industrialists handing out Indian peace pipes makes about as much sense as claiming pig poop doesn't stink.

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