Swine barns were a highlight of the discussion among Waseca County Commissioners, discussing setbacks for feedlots in the county. (Annie Baxter/Marketplace 2016)

Waseca County feedlots could see setback changes in the future.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Mark Leiferman presented potential setback changes to the Waseca County Board of Commissioners. The setbacks from residential and other feedlots is currently at 1,000 feet. The board is looking at changing it to 1,320 feet or 1,500 feet.

“If we went to 1,500 feet resident to feedlot we would lose about 54,000 acres of potential land,” Leiferman said.

The potential 1,320-foot setback, meanwhile, represents a quarter of a mile.

“That would be the number that makes sense in my head if you were to increase it,” Waseca County Feedlot Officer Brian Zabel said.

“As we increase the number of feedlots in the county, back in the day, if you had a feedlot 1,000 feet on one side, that was one thing, but now people have them both sides or all three sides,” Commissioner Doug Christopherson said. “So for me it makes sense to increase, so someone doesn’t end up with four buildings all the way around them.”

The last time the setback was increased was 20 years ago from 500 feet to 1,000 feet. The topic came up again, in part, because the county is currently working on establishing setbacks for new solar garden developments in the area.

“I’m not adamant about this. I want the discussion and if the (Waseca County) Planning Commission comes back that this is fine the way it is, and you guys (the Board of Commissioners) agree with them, I’m fine with that. It’s just been 20 years. If solar is being looked at, it only makes sense that feedlot be looked at as well,” Christopherson said.

Zabel was able to share information and his own thoughts on the proposed change.

“I was told that the industry will regulate itself,” Zabel said about having feedlots so close together.

Commissioners DeAnne Malterer agreed at least partially with Zabel’s sentiment.

“As far as the setback barn-to-barn, I absolutely agree that the industry is going to regulate themselves and we could do away with that,” Commissioner DeAnne Malterer said. “The hog guys are so concerned about disease.”

The current policy has different stipulations and exceptions when it comes to where the feedlots can be placed near residences or other barns. For instance, the setback is currently 1,000 feet from a residence, but if a family member or the owner of the feedlot owns the residence, the setback is reduced.

“For me I would like to consider going to that 1,320 feet, similar to Freeborn County,” Christopherson said. “I don’t know that it would restrict them too much, and I don’t want to come across as anti-livestock, because I’m not, but I want to be fair to both.”

“My only concern is about being farmer friendly …,” Commissioner Blair Nelson said. “I’m a little leary on being too restrictive, but it goes both ways on where the land can be punched out, too, and now we’re taking away opportunity.”

When Zabel shared the information that he had gathered from surrounding counties, he mentioned that Freeborn County is more restricted and that the feedlot officer there said it is difficult to get new feedlots in the county. The board gave the Planning Commission a recommendation of what they should consider for this potential change.

“I think if we’re going to kick this back to the Planning and Zoning Commission I would suggest having some comparison maps for them …,” Malterer said. “We probably want, especially since we’ve had the discussion of the 1,320 feet, if we could have comparison maps to Freeborn County or Rice County, because without the comparison maps, I have a pretty good idea of what the Planning Commission would do, and they would say ‘Give farmers opportunity.’”

“I don’t want these setbacks to get complicated like some of these other counties have,” Christopherson added.

“The other thing we should look at is not only what their (Freeborn and Rice Counties) code is, but what their growth is,” Leiferman said.

The Planning Commission will be tasked with sending a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, which will then make a final determination on the new setback rules. Feedlots already in place would still be allowable, as long as they fit with the current ordinance.

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey.

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