By Melanie Stegner

After much discussion, the Pope County Board of Commissioners approved the interim use permit request with the conditions provided by the Planning Commission for a non-confinement feeding area for Reichmann Land and Cattle. The hot-button topic included several comments from residents of Villard as well as from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other agencies. The issue was brought forth at the November 1 meeting of the county commissioners and returned at last week’s meeting because no decision had been made. 

Pope County Land and Resource Management Director David Green was on hand and addressed the issue, including the current NFA ordinance. “To the best of our knowledge there are no other counties in Minnesota that have an ordinance to regulate this specific land use activity and there are no state agencies to regulate this land use activity. It’s unique to us,” he stated. 

“Our staff have reviewed the application and supporting information and have provided a recommendation of approval for certain specified nonconfinement feeding areas which substantially conform to the standards identified in Pope County Land Use Controls Ordinance section 10.3.6.  The recommendation includes conditions to consider that were brought forth after the public hearing and the Planning Advisory Commission recommended the permit be issued with conditions. There is no reason to not approve this,” added Green.

“I’m concerned about the drinking water and the aquifer water under and near the city of Villard. There are sandpoint wells there; I believe over 90 percent are sandpoint wells,” said Commissioner Cody Rogahn. 

“I’m not sure there is any data that correlates between this activity and phosphorous or nitrate levels in the water. I do know that when we evaluate comments, we do not do so based on speculation, but simply based on facts,” stated Green.

“Sometimes water sampling is done at the research center or at a water access but doing a test today doesn’t offer us much because we don’t have a baseline to compare it to,” Board Chairperson Larry Lindor stated.

“I was at Soil and Water this morning and they stressed that these decisions have to be made based on science and can’t be made based on other factors,” stated Commissioner Paul Gerde.

“I still don’t think it’s wise to wait for a well to go bad before we act on it. We should err on the side of caution,” Commissioner Gordy Wagner noted.

 “I think it’s a disingenuous argument to say that we shouldn’t do it now because we never did before. For the county to say we should not do water testing regimen because we’ve never done it before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t start,” Commissioner Nan Haggerty mentioned.

“If someone is so concerned about testing, what is holding them back from testing their water? Are we supposed to test everyone in the county’s water? The idea that someone should be drinking water out of a sandpoint well anymore is obsolete,” said Gerde. 

The first motion regarding the IUP was put forth by Gerde with issuing the permit with the conditions as defined by the PAC. Lindor seconded. When asked for discussion, Wagner asked if there could be a stipulation in the permit to state that any questionable acts should bring the permittee back before the board for a revisit, reassessment or revocation. 

Rogahn made an amendment to the motion to move the setback from ¼ mile to ½ mile and to allow for manure spreading in the ¼ that cattle are not requested to inhabit. 

The majority of the land in question lies in the Sauk River Watershed district. Former Governor Mark Dayton had set a standard setback of 50 feet for minimal runoff standard. The Reichmann permit states 500 feet. “It is ten times more than what is required. The amount of runoff is not enough to even quantify,” stated Green. 

The amount of manure that would need to be spread along the non-recommended area to reach the desired phosphorous and nitrate levels is equivalent to two times the droppings from the head per acre according to Mr. Reichmann.

Upon further fact-finding, the complaints that were submitted from the public had less to do with the public seeing cattle grazing than they did with piling and storing manure. The non-confinement feeding area is not expected to have any piling near the Villard city limits, it was stated.

“We use supplemental feeding to control the herd and we don’t offer them food in the area close to the city limits. That’s how we ensure that certain areas are not overpopulated. Now, we do have two waterers that are near the edge of the ¼ mile border,” stated Ted Reichmann.

Wagner moved to pass the IUP with the conditions of windbreaks on all parcels with cattle, no cattle within a quarter mile of the city and the IUP is a three-year-long permit. Rogahn seconded the motion. The board voted 2-3 and the motion failed.

A second similar motion was made by Lindor and seconded by Gerde to use the same conditions as Wagner’s motion, but to remove the setback condition Wagner is seeking. The board voted 2-3 and the motion failed. 

Commissioner Gerde made a motion to approve the IUP with the windbreaks and a three-year duration. Lindor seconded. Rogahn, Lindor and Gerde voted to approve, and Wagner and Haggerty voted against. That motion passed.

Other business

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a presentation to certify a habitat easement for a property of Lyle and Judy Johnson for 53 acres of property located in Bangor Township. The land is not viable for haying and is not consistent for crop use. Upon discussion with his children, the Johnson family determined this is a great direction for that piece of land. The board passed the request unanimously. 

Sheriff Riley requested approval for the renewal of the five-year contract with West Central SWAT. Dues are in the $2,000 per year area and Stevens County acts as fiscal agent. This request was approved unanimously. 

The reconstruction of CSAH 15 for next summer is in the planning stages and the highway department has been working on right-of-way acquisition for an additional ten feet. “We have met with the landowners at least once, and they’ve all been receptive. The three property owners we’ve met with again have signed things with no questions asked,” stated County Engineer Giese.

The Land and Resource Management office has been approached with a request to be a funding partner to help develop second-generation high-density lidar data for the geographic area of the county. The LRM office has funds available in the Riparian fund to cover the cost of this service. The board approved unanimously.