About three years ago, bees ran into a buzz saw at the St. Peter City Council, as the group voted down an ordinance change that would’ve allowed beekeeping in St. Peter. But the buzz is back, as a new City Council has expressed willingness to at least reconsider the request to allow the operation of hives in city limits.
One of the residents who advocated for the bees in 2017, Emily Bruflat, is now on the City Council and was the impetus behind restarting the conversation now. There are only two council members — Councilor Stephen Grams and Mayor Zieman — on the council now that we’re on the council last time the topic was breached; both Grams and Zieman voted against the ordinance change in 2017.
There was enough interest expressed from the council during a discussion at the Aug. 3 work session that City Administrator Todd Prafke recommended putting the topic on a future goal session agenda, so the council could have an expanded discussion. The next goal session is later in August. If there was still interest at that, the council would have to vote at a regular meeting, likely not until September.
When the discussion was brought to the table in 2017, councilors Susan Carlin and John Kvamme were both in favor of the ordinance change. They did their best to refute the concerns of the other council members, but ultimately four out of six present at the vote remained against.
A couple of the council members were concerned about bees stinging neighbors or residents who have allergies. Two others brought a new objection: that honeybees harm the native pollinator population through competition for food.
“European honeybees are not native to this country,” former Councilor and now state Rep. Jeff Brand said in 2017. He read studies that said honeybees compete with native populations for food and introduce diseases into native pollinator populations. He read advice from The Xerces Society, advising policy makers “to consider potential impacts when considering placing of apiaries on public lands.”
Councilor Grams also cited those studies and reiterated that point during the new council’s discussion on honeybees at the Aug. 3 work session.
“We can’t question science if it’s based on fact and scientific knowledge,” Grams said. “I had talked to a scientist, and his first comment was that the honey bee in the North American continent has done more ecological damage than any other item. We can’t pick and choose what we want to believe and what we don’t want to believe.”
In 2017, former Councilor Carlin responded to that concern.
“They didn’t mean Minnesota Square Park,” she said of the articles concerned about bee management. “These articles were written in reference to managing public lands for conservation.” She said with all of the flowers and gardens available for pollination in the city, a few honeybee hives would not hurt the native pollinators.
Current Councilor Bruflat, not knowing it was illegal at the time, had a honeybee hive at her St. Peter property with her husband Nathan Koster, who is trained in beekeeping. After Koster and Bruflat married in summer 2016, they found their new St. Peter residence. They decided to add bees next to their garden, which flourished in summer 2017. The hive’s placement was key. It was surrounded by a garage, hoop house and tree. Because of those obstacles, the worker bees fly up and then out. Koster told the council they could travel up to three miles, pollinating flowers and plants all over St. Peter.
Mayor Zieman’s primary concern, then and now, was the possibility of neighbors, who did not ask to live by hives, being stung by the bees. Honeybees are not typically considered aggressive, but they mayor noted that they are still capable of stinging, and he said it’s happened to him before.
Bruflat said, that from her own experience and knowledge, honeybees shouldn’t pose any threat to community members. She said that her next door neighbor works in the medical field and has a bee allergy, but still wants the bees, because they were so good for her garden back in 2017. Bruflat made a final point that she doesn’t expect there would be many hives in town, as anyone who wanted to start an apiary would still need certification.
New councilors Brad DeVos, Shanon Nowell and Keri Johnson all expressed interest in discussing the topic more — hearing more on the impact of honeybees and seeing how any complaints would be handled in St. Peter if beekeeping was allowed. Councilor Ed Johnson, who also joined the council after the 2017 discussion, said he was willing to talk about it, but he leaned toward sticking with the 2017 council’s decision.