Local residents update commissioners on requested EIS for proposed hog operation

By : 
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY
BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP

Fillmore County’s board of commissioners handled a very brief agenda during the Tuesday, Oct. 9, meeting.

Citizens Bonnie Haugen of Canton Township and Michelle Hockersmith of Preble Township sat before the commissioners during the public input portion of the meeting to share information related to the proposed Catalpa, LLC, hog operation that may locate in Newburg Township.

Haugen read a letter sent to Gov. Mark Dayton on behalf of the Land Stewardship Project and Responsible Ag in Karst Country thanking him for meeting with them regarding their push for an environmental impact study (EIS) to prevent the location of the hog operation, listing that 772 public comments had been sent to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on Aug. 29.

She noted concerns remain because it is felt by many local residents that the MPCA is disregarding the process for determining whether an EIS should be required.

“The statute states clearly the standard for determining the need to order an environmental impact statement,” she said, quoting, “‘An EIS shall be ordered for projects that have the potential for significant environmental effects.’”

She stated there are eight items in the summary that (support this), reading from the letter sent to the governor, “There have been demands for an EIS from local residents and farmers, there are five impacted local units of government or representatives of local government that have stated that an EIS is necessary and have asked for one; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) comments to the EAW indicate the potential for significant environmental impacts and support the need for ordering an EIS; Minnesota’s leading karst expert, Dr. Calvin Alexander, of the University of Minnesota, investigated the proposed site and his research has led him to call for an EIS; the project would significantly impact groundwater availability, which must be analyzed through an EIS; in 2000, in a very similar case, a Fillmore County district judge ordered an EIS on a large-scale feedlot proposed in Fillmore County after the MPCA refused to do so. The judge cited in his ruling the failure of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to address the issue of sinkhole collapse underneath the manure lagoon; an EIS is needed to take economic and public health impacts into account; and the MPCA’s actions in ordering further investigations of the site have made it clear that the agency acknowledges the ‘potential for significant environmental impacts.’”

Commissioner Duane Bakke remarked that a study of the site has been done and the site was deemed a good place to build, and he questioned the process of how to determine whether a study had reached the proper conclusions.

Haugen said Alexander, of the U of M, had not deemed the site as an ideal plot.

“We’re also hearing from Martin Larsen (of Olmsted County Soil and Water Conservation District) and he’s a caver,” Haugen said. “He says that’s not a complete study, that it’s not as complete as it should have been to get a definite answer.”

Bakke queried, “I can’t imagine why they would take a shortcut on investigating if 750 people complained.”

Hockersmith spoke up, citing, “It’s not as comprehensive — there are a lot of areas of concern.”

Haugen and Hockersmith thanked the commissioners for hearing them during the board meeting.

Fraud investigation

Next, Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsh and fraud investigator Nate Barker came before the board to present an update on the shared five-county public assistance benefits fraud investigation agreement and work that has been done to identify instances of abuse of public assistance.

Bartsh introduced Barker and outlined the number of cases of benefits fraud in Fillmore County is relatively low.

“There have been eight cases, so it’s relatively low down here,” he said. “Nate’s working with the case workers, asking them how he can get a little bit more involved. Goodhue and Winona counties take up the most of the work.”

He continued, citing that of the 623 cases investigated, 59 were disqualified due to significant red flags that suggested fraudulent use of public monies.

“In regards to the 59 that were disqualified, the 623 in the state is pretty significant, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad that we’ve got 623 cases, but we want to disqualify people who are defrauding the state,” Bartsh said. “There are people who really need the assistance, but they might have forgotten to fill out a part of the application or there are parts they don’t understand.”

Bakke questioned Barker about how he is notified by participating counties about which benefits recipients should be investigated.

Barker replied that he typically gets referrals from human services workers in each county, after which he will investigate and report back to the respective workers.

Bakke asked whether there were findings on cases where someone could be overpaid but stay on public assistance. Barker answered that there are instances in which there is blatant abuse that will disqualify someone from receiving assistance. However, there are also instances in which recipients have failed to notify the county of someone moving into their home or did not fully understand how to fill out an application and misreported their household’s occupancy or income.

Bartsh related the work to identify fraudulent claims is labor intensive and if Barker is doing his job well, there will be complaints from people who have lost their undue benefits.

He concluded, “There’s not a lot of charging going on.”

Electronic speed limit sign

 The commissioners discussed purchasing an electronic speed limit sign — one that Sheriff Tom Kaase quoted would cost $5,041 and inform motorists how fast they are driving.

He stated that he followed up on how to purchase one without spending a lot of county funds, but he’d found only that inquiring with different companies, such as Kwik Trip, for contributions posed possibilities.

Board Chairman Mitch Lentz wanted to know what the long-term plan for placing the sign might be, given the expense of the sign. “It’s a good step forward, but you want to pick out the spots where to assign this to,” he said.

A motion was made, seconded and passed to approve the purchase of the sign, and after some discussion, Commissioner Gary Peterson wanted to know whether it might prove useful to locate it at the intersection of Highway 44 and Highway 63 south of Spring Valley.

Lentz replied that he thought that might be a good place to put an electronic speed limit sign.

Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman asked the commissioners if she should take the funds from an unallocated account and whether she should contact city administrators around the county for suggestions as to where to put electronic speed limit signs to slow traffic and prevent accidents. The commissioners agreed to both.

Other business

Fillmore County Emergency Manager Don Kullot brought forward the 2018 emergency management performance grant agreement.

The consent agenda included approving family and medical leave for an employee — effective Oct. 8 for up to 12 weeks.