Otter Tail County board meets over turkey barn controversy


Editor’s note: This is an update on the continuing development of the turkey barn site near South Turtle Lake. See tomorrow’s edition of The Daily Journal for additional coverage of the issue.

On Otter Tail County board’s agenda Tuesday morning feedlots were listed. Because of various voiced concerns, the site on Minnesota 210 and South Turtle Lake was the main topic of discussion.

Several neighbors from South Turtle Lake came to the board meeting to hear the county commissioners discuss the controversy and what some residents of South Turtle Lake call “deception.” According to a resident the turkey barn property is less than 800 feet to some houses on South Turtle Lake and the residents there did not find out the barns were being put up until dirt work had started on June 10.

In previous stories we had reported that the MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency of Detroit Lakes), the agency which permitted the turkey barn project owned by Ardy Johansen, had printed a public notice in The Daily Journal in February to notify the community of a public hearing on Feb. 7. Through further investigation at The Daily Journal and after attending the county board meeting, such public notice cannot be found.

County commissioners and some residents were confused to find out there was no public notice at the board meeting, for they had the impression the notice had been submitted and published. They were also confused to find out that MPCA was not required by law to have a public hearing for the Ardy Johansen site, nor send out a public notice.

Matt Hagen, a seasonal resident of South Turtle Lake has done his research and came prepared to the board meeting. He feels there was a conscious effort to deceive the community of South Turtle Lake and he does not push all the blame to MPCA. Of the research Hagen has done, according to Minnesota Statute 116, point seven, for an application for a feedlot permit, if a feedlot exceeds 500 animal units, notice should be provided to each resident within 20 business days of the permit.

“He came in under 500 animal units consciously to not put out a notice,” Hagen said. “The site map is exclusively zoomed in and does not include us around the barn. The consulting firm focused on the barn site.”

This sitemap was submitted to MPCA by the consulting firm, Anez, which Ardy Johansen utilized to help him go through the process of applying for a permit for his turkey barn build.

Hagen said the MPCA permitted the feedlot on Feb. 6, a day before the public hearing took place on February 7. This is according to the document Hagen brought with him, which he cited as MNPCA CFF2079 permit issue 2/6/17.

“The barn location, lack of notification for South Turtle was a conscious decision to not have this discussion,” Hagen said. “We can look up doing an injunction and get an attorney, but the best that I can tell is they followed the letter of the law. I don’t think we have anything, but maybe injunction might show something was missed.”

Hagen doesn’t feel confident that an injunction could find anything and he turns to the county board to tell them what they can do, but the turkey barns are out of the county commissioners’ jurisdiction. Unless, they change the county’s zoning ordinance.

“I contacted the MPCA about changing laws, but they said locally the county can change the ordinance that any people within 5,000 feet of feedlot should get notification.  Having 2,700 turkeys without notification seems crazy to me,” Hagen said.

Commissioners, including District 2 commissioner Wayne Johnson, were confused as to why Johansen’s barn was even on the agenda if he was not required to be there or send notice in the first place.

According to the county attorney, David Hauser, when he contacted the MPCA they said they don’t really ask for hearings to consider the public’s concerns.

“They don’t consider the information they just want the meeting so they know the community know the feedlots are occurring. It’s just a function of seeing are the feedlots going to meet the requirements of the MPCA.”

So, when Hagen asked if the community had had a chance to voice their opinion to the MPCA, would the turkey barns still be in their backyards, the board gave mixed answers.

Douglas Huebsch, District 1 commissioner,  thought if the MPCA had listened to public concern, they would have searched for more information. Johnson thinks too much credit is given to the MPCA on Huebsch behalf. Hauser said if the public had a subsequent comment that relied on a pre existing setback, regulation, or law, then the MPCA would have to follow it, but it seems there isn’t any violation of regulations in place.

The county board expressed surprise and confusion at the board meeting in regards to the MPCA process and notification. Leland Rogness, District 5 commissioner, said he and the board are striving for a more transparent permitting process.

“We try to be as transparent as all possible when we do hearings,” Rogness said. “My problem is with the MPCA, they have a record of being inactive and they drag their feet on projects …. I think the MPCA needs to notify people, neighborhoods that feedlots will go into and the public should have an opportunity to speak to it and that the understanding of this process should be more clearly understood.”

Rogness and other commissioners said they would look into changing the county ordinance on agricultural zoning and the ordinance would determine where agriculture could be.

Johnson said that the board can’t do much about the past events, however they will work towards a zoning ordinance that will be fair for both agriculture and citizens.

“We need to figure out what is a reasonable set back without going full blown,” Johnson said.

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