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Grant County Considers Reducing CAFO and Manure Setbacks

Apparently cow poop doesn't stink as much as it used to in Grant County. Last Tuesday the Grant County Planning and Zoning Board received from its study group a detailed recommendation for revising the county's regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The ordinance includes some useful clarifications and brings some smaller operations under the environmental protection umbrella. But it also makes some unwise changes:

  1. Reduce setbacks from houses, business, churches, and municipal boundaries for CAFOs with under 500 animal units from a half mile to 1980 or 1320 feet, depending on CAFO size.
  2. Reduce setbacks from well heads from a half mile to 1000 feet (just 250 feet for operations with under 300 animal units).
  3. On those setback definitions, replace the word required with recommended. The new rules make clear that the county retains authority to decrease setbacks as it sees fit.
  4. Eliminates manure application setbacks from residential areas.

View the proposed changes here: text underlined and highlighted is new language; strike-outs are current zoning language that would be deleted.

The revisions add permission for animal manure management facilities using methane digesters to "receive on and off-site generated manure and/or organic wastes" (p. 6, Section 4-A-7). Locals tell me that this clause apparently covers a practice that already takes place, as the Valley Queen Cheese Factory has for some time been hauling up to 28 trailer-loads of waste sludge from its vats to the lagoon at the Dairy Institute, which runs a methane digester.

These changes come from a study group convened by county zoning officer Krista Atyeo-Gortmaker:

The group was made up of two representatives of the animal agriculture in the county, an at-large member who works as a consultant in the livestock industry, county Commissioner Doug Stengel, Planning and Zoning Board members Gary Lindeman and Nancy Johnson and Atyeo-Gortmaker. The citizens group was offered two seats in the study group but declined to be involved [Terry O'Keefe, "Grant County Considers Zoning Proposals," Watertown Public Opinion, 2011.03.18].

Those ag-industry reps, I hear from locals, were honchos from Valley Queen Cheese and the Dairy Institute, which quite naturally have an interest in being able to expand dairy operations in Grant County.

Grant Planning and Zoning took no formal action on the proposed changes Tuesday. Atyeo-Gortmaker expects a year-long review process before any changes go into law. Once P&Z makes its final recommendation to the board, the county will take public comment on the rules. If passed, the rules can be referred to a public vote.

These rules could also set a precedent for big dairy operations throughout eastern South Dakota. Neighbors, if you prefer not to have manure dumped at the edge of your yard, you might want to pay attention.