Things aren’t looking good for the Daley Farm’s proposed feedlot expansion.
The Lewiston-based dairy plans to increase its herd from 1,728 cows and calves to 4,628, but before it can break ground, the farm needs to obtain a variance and conditional-use permit to exceed Winona County’s animal unit cap.
However, according to county staff in a report published Wednesday, Daley Farms may not be eligible for a variance. While the county staff’s report certainly doesn’t bode well for the Daley Farms’ planned expansion, the final decision falls to the Winona County Board of Adjustment, which is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Tau Center on Winona State University’s west campus. The Tau Center is located on the corner of Hilbert and Howard streets.
“The petitioner has not demonstrated the variance request satisfies all of the approval criteria,” county staff concluded, adding that the farm’s petition failures to meet four of the eight criteria listed in the finds of fact.
In his application, Ben Daley, a fifth-generation farmer whose family has run the Lewiston dairy for more than 100 years, made the case that a variance was in fact in harmony with the intent of the ordinance and the county’s 2014 comprehensive plan.
“An expansion of the farm is necessary in order to support the additional people who will be making their living farming in Winona County,” Daley wrote in his application. “At the same time, the project has been carefully engineered — and reviewed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — to ensure that the manure generated from the facilities can be properly managed to protect the health of the public and natural resources.”
Daley Farms owns and operates three sites in Winona County. In addition to the expansion planned for one site, it will close a second site and install open-lot runoff controls at the third site. The expansion at the main site would include a total confinement barn with 3,000 dairy cows, a rotary milking parlor, a manure storage basin, a feed storage pad and stormwater runoff controls.
While county staff did find merit in some of the arguments made in Daley’s application, it determined that granting a variance would only serve to enlarge — not reduce — the existing nonconformity and thus was not in harmony with the county zoning ordinance governing the size of feedlots in Winona County.
Staff also made the case that the variance request was economically motivated, hadn’t established a practical difficulty complying with the ordinance, nor was the request due to special conditions or circumstances that were unique to the property or out of the property owner’s control.
The public can submit written comments to Winona County Planning & Environment Services, 177 Main St., Winona, MN 55987, until noon Tuesday, Feb. 19. Any written public comments received after the deadline will not be distributed to board members.
So far the county has received nearly 100 comments, the majority of which support the Daley’s plans to expand.
A Winona Daily News review of the comments revealed that more than three-quarters of the comments made were in support of the expansion. This included comments of support from city councils in Stockton, Rollingstone, Elba, Lewiston, Utica and Altura.
“The city of Lewiston welcomes the potential of greater economic benefits to the various agriculture related businesses as well as those residents who are or may become employees of Daley Farms LLP,” a letter from the city of Lewiston reads.
According to Winona County planning director Kay Qualey in an interview last week, the board of adjustment must find that the petitioner — Daley Farms — has met all eight of the criteria listed in the finds of fact in order to grant a variance.
If the board of adjustment disagrees with county staff’s findings and grants the variance, the Daleys would still need to obtain a conditional use permit from the planning commission before it could begin work on the expansion.
However, if the board of adjustment agrees with county staff’s findings on any one of the eight criteria, the Daley’s request for a variance would be denied, leaving the family with limited options for recourse.
Daley Farms has the option to appeal the board of adjustment’s decision in district court, or the family could petition the planning commission to change the county’s zoning ordinances.
The Daley’s feedlot expansion has faced intense scrutiny among many in the community who feel the dairy’s expansion would pose a significant environmental risk to the region’s water supply.
The MPCA received more than 600 comments during a public comment period last fall.
And while MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine determined that the farm did not require an environmental impact statement in early January, that decision is already facing legal challenges from the Land Stewardship Project and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
“The Land Stewardship Project feels strongly that in making this decision to not do an EIS, the MPCA failed in its obligation to protect the natural resources of rural communities especially groundwater,” said LSP organizer Barb Sogn-Frank in a statement.
The appellate court has not ruled on whether it will hear the case.