During their meeting Tuesday, the Watonwan County Board of Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for William Janzen’s proposed feedlot.

They heard from Janzen at the last board meeting, March 17, but Commissioner Scott Sanders requested more time to examine the application, so it was tabled until Tuesday. The proposed site would be a 2,400-head hog finishing barn in Odin Township. It was approved by the planning and zoning commission with the usual conditions, like tree-planting and pit additive being used.

The application has been strenuously opposed by some of Janzen’s neighbors, as they object to the odor from a hog barn so close to them, and a half-dozen of them were again present Tuesday as they were in March. They’d prefer Janzen move his site to a location more southwest.

At that March meeting, Janzen vowed to do his best to be “neighborly,” notifying neighbors during manure application time, and perhaps shifting his schedule around if they had outdoor activities planned during that time. He said he considered the more southwestern site, but that would’ve moved closer to more residences, too.

“This spot gets us the farthest away from the most residences,” he said March 17 “I want as many people to be satisfied about this as possible.”

Janzen said in March the project would be constructed by he and his son, Tim, who together comprise Janzen Family Farms. His goal is to start the work July 1 and be done by October 1.

There are 21 feedlots in Odin Township, said Dave Haler, director of the county’s land management and soil and water conservation district office. There is only one feedlot within the city limits of Odin.

On Tuesday, Cheryl Bjoin, a concerned citizen, said she lives in Odin Township and bought rural property in 2000. She moved to the country for “clean, fresh air” and an “idyllic” rural setting, but, roughly five years ago, a hog facility was established half a mile from her, and she hasn’t had her windows open since.

“Nobody is going to be happy with a facility half a mile away from their place,” she said. The current ordinance calls for a half-mile distance, but Bjoin and others would like to see that changed to three-quarters of a mile or a full mile.

Raymond Gustafson, chairman of the board, explained that the planning and zoning committee has had meetings to discuss changing the ordinance, but no one spoke in favor of doing so. “Everyone comes to these (county board) meetings, but not to those.”

Sanders backed him, saying, “we opened that up” as recently as 18 months ago. That meeting was filled with pork producers, but no one from the public who would’ve argued for more restrictive setbacks.

“We did everything we could as commissioners to have public input [...] and we (didn’t) get that,” he said. “We did our due diligence.”

Bjoin and others said they weren’t aware of the meetings, and they would’ve attended and voiced their concerns had they known.

Janzen added that, as far as he knows, Watonwan County and Blue Earth County are two of the hardest counties to procure a feedlot permit in, and he said he’s going to invest $800,000 of his own family money into this project. Moreover, he does a substantial amount of business within this county, with everyone from electricians to farmers.

For example, “farmers that grow corn and soybeans here, we buy your products,” he said. “I hope we can look at the positive side of the pork industry in Watonwan County.”

Sanders said, “When we live in the country, we live in agricultural zones.” That means livestock operations are permitted, with conditions. It’s not the job of the board to stop agricultural operations, but to demand they are accountable.

Other board members, like Dave Holmgren, agreed, essentially saying that when someone chooses to live rurally, coping with odors from agricultural operations is an assumed risk.

Sanders did say he was frustrated with lack of enforcement from the county in the past on farmers who were derelict in their duties--neglecting to use the prescribed pit additives, not making use of trees as required, etc.--but a great deal of resources have been plowed into stepping up enforcement for the future. “We’re not going to look the other way.”

And he imposed conditions in Janzen’s operation, like: using pit additives, having invoices for those purchases available upon request from the county, ceding to random inspections every three years, planting trees around the site, and installing a man-made eight-foot windbreak around the north side and half of the east side of his building that will attenuate odors until the trees grow to their necessary height. Janzen will work closely with Haler to assure these conditions are met.

For the rest of this story, please see the April 9 print edition of the St. James Plaindealer--still available now.