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Baker Dairy on hold, but township still discussing feedlot moratorium

CHOKIO – In an unexpected turn of events, Brad Fehr announced that Riverview Dairy is putting the Baker Dairy project on hold at a Baker Township public hearing on Monday, Aug. 4.

The public meeting was designed to hear input on placing a moratorium on feedlots over 1,000 animals. About 40 people were in attendance.

The meeting began with a public comment period. Fehr was the first to speak. He said, “I’m speaking on behalf of Riverview. We will not be pursuing our conditional use permit from the county. We will continue with the state permit and the other permits we have in process and we will continue to work with the Corps of Army Engineers in tiling the wetlands.

“It is still our goal to build a dairy some day, but we’d like to give you more time to consider. Our hope would be that we would gain more local support over time. Perhaps, if three years go by and we’ve gained support, we’d want to continue.”

Fehr went on to say that if they decide to continue the process they would give the township four to six weeks notice of their intent. He stressed that this was not a delaying tactic and that they “were not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes,” but that they want to give people more time.

After the public hearing, the Baker Township board agreed to discuss the moratorium at their regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 8.

Moratorium discussion still open

Although all three supervisors on the Baker Township board said they did not want to pass a moratorium on feedlots in the township at their meeting on Aug. 8, the board voted to continue the discussion until the board’s next regular meeting on Sept. 8.

About ten people were in attendance at the board meeting held at Hooter’s Lumber on Monday, Aug. 11.

Each supervisor expressed their opinion about a moratorium. Jon Hallman said, “We’ve learned a lot. There are good people on both sides of this and I hate to say sides because we are all in agriculture. But people are passionate about this. We have had to wrestle with this. If we put a moratorium in place, are we going down a slippery slope?”

Chairman Nate Burmeister said, “The landscape of farming is changing and we may have to rely on livestock in the future. What gives us the right to restrict free enterprise?”

Supervisor Mike Jipson said, “I think the marketplace determines when enough is enough. We apparently need the milk, otherwise they [Fehrs] wouldn’t be building. If the market drops out, the building will stop.”

A few in attendance spoke to the issue, with Baker resident Charlie Goldenstein saying, “When people say enough is enough we can’t judge that. Some guy can walk into my shed and say 60 plows is enough. I don’t want them to judge that. It’s not right.”

Goldenstein asked the board if the issue could be put to a vote among Baker Township residents. “That way it wouldn’t be just a board decision – put it to the people. This takes the burden off you guys and puts it on us. We are Baker Township.”

Livestock producer Adam Zeltwanger stressed that raising livestock is part of this area’s heritage.

“We’re doing nothing different than in 1918 when our grandparents were farming. The only difference is that we’re more responsible and environmentally friendly. It’s a heritage we have that we need to preserve.”

Baker Township resident Mark Heinze said, “But it was the small guys who made our world what it is today. Not the big guys – they’re pushing the little guys out. Is it fair? No. It’s just like Walmart pushing out the little guys. We should go back to those days – farming 300 acres.”

Baker Township clerk Dennis Wernsing explained to the group the process for pursuing the moratorium. He noted that if the board needed more information before voting, they could continue the meeting to the next regular meeting as opposed to tabling the issue.

The supervisors wanted to look into the possibility of putting the moratorium to a vote, possibly including it in their March township election. They also heard discussion on the cap on the number of animals the moratorium should address and wanted time to gather more information.

Susan Fitzgerald, who owns land in Baker Township, asked the board if landowners would get a chance to vote in the election. The supervisors said that only residents would vote.

She said, “As absentee landlords, what do we do if we want to continue our business? How long are you going to kick this can down the road? Will you be talking zoning down the road? We have young people who are interested in cattle raising.”

Wernsing noted that if the supervisors passed the moratorium it would be for a 12-month period. During that time committees would be formed to study feedlot ordinances in the county and elsewhere, and research zoning in other townships.

“The moratorium isn’t going to do anything different than the time they’ve given us,” said Wernsing. “They’ve indicated that we have that time and more. We have legal questions. One is, can we vote on this?”

Burmeister noted that when the board started the moratorium process, “We were unanimous about hiring an attorney to explore the issue. We were unanimous then. But after exploring the options I’m no longer in favor of passing a moratorium or rezoning.”

Supervisor Hallman made a motion to continue the moratorium discussion until the next meeting, but a second was long in coming.

Chairman Burmeister finally noted, “I’ll second the motion but I’m not in favor of the moratorium. But I urge the board to make a decision about the moratorium at the next meeting.”

The moratorium discussion is continued until the next regular township board meeting to be held on Monday, Sept. 8 at 8 a.m. at Hooter’s Lumber in Chokio.