MABEL — The Newburg Township board voted 2-1 on Thursday to adopt a one-year moratorium on the construction of feedlots with more than 500 animal units and new non-farm dwellings.
The moratorium will directly affect the 4,980-head swine facility proposed by Catalpa LLC, 10 miles east of Harmony. At the proposed site, an estimated 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure would be produced annually, stored and spread on approved farms in the area.
There has been pushback from members of the community who believe the proposed facility has a potential hazardous risk for air, water and land pollution. Especially in the area’s karst geology, some say there is a higher potential for groundwater contamination.
They have asked the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to require an Environmental Impact Statement for the facility, which would provide in-depth research into any risks. The MPCA has not yet made a decision.
Loni Kemp, one of the leaders of the citizens group Responsible Ag in Karst Country, said the moratorium was a decision and course of action well within their rights as a township.
“This is allowed by Minnesota law, so that cities and townships can take some time off to either change or create a zoning ordinance to meet their needs,” Kemp said. “This is a right that local governments have, because the Legislature decided long ago that you can’t expect small communities to be completely up to speed for everything; They need time to consider what their regulatory needs are.”
The Newburg Township board met in Mabel and passed the vote amidst previous discussion, controversy and action regarding the facility.
More than 400 people gathered in Mabel in June to request an Environmental Impact Statement from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Additionally, a lawsuit was filed earlier this month by a Minneapolis lawyer representing Al Hein, a local farmer and the owner of the project’s proposed land, against the township in an attempt to stop a meeting from happening regarding the moratorium.
But Hein, while disagreeing with the idea that the proposed facility would have negative environmental effects, said he personally sees the year-long postponement as a positive and an opportunity to continue sharing his viewpoints and discussing agriculture education as a whole.
“They did what they thought they must, but I suppose the process of education will continue,” Hein said. “I hope people will understand this is not a threat to the community or environment — in fact, it’s just the opposite.”
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Hein said the organic nature of manure not only adds biodiversity to the land, but also has a great nutrient value. He sees animal agriculture and crop farming as a perfect marriage in the rural community.
While he said he was allowed three minutes at last night’s meeting and has done a few presentations before, he looks forward to meeting with people during the next year.
“I want to tie this together (to show that) this is not an environmental threat, it actually works hand-in-hand with the earth,” Hein said. “In the last few years, people have forgotten that connection and that, environmentally, it’s in harmony with the earth’s balance.”
Dayna Burtness, a local resident and small-operation pig farmer who has been active in the public hearings, said the decision is bigger than the Catalpa facility alone.
“The township officers didn’t make this decision just about the Catalpa proposal,” Burtness said. “It was about the encroaching pressure from feedlots coming out of Iowa in general — Catalpa just happens to be a part of that.”
Moving forward, Burtness said the moratorium vote and public hearing last night was a celebrated step by many in the community, despite a growing sense of frustration among many involved.
“Once the moratorium passed, people were really, really happy — there was a standing ovation,” she said.
Burtness and Kemp said the next step will be to appoint a committee of township residents who will look in-depth at zoning decisions.
Newburg Township board members did not respond to multiple calls for comment.