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West Newton Township considers new setbacks

Suggestions include establishing regulations that are stricter than currently required by Nicollet County

April 17, 2009
By Fritz Busch Journal Staff Writer

ST. GEORGE - The devil was in the livestock barn setback details Thursday as the West Newton Township Board Ordinance Committee discussed establishing more restrictive setbacks before a packed crowd at the St. George Community Center.

The township board is considering wider setbacks than Nicollet County currently requires.

Last June, Nicollet County commissioners approved a conditional use permit for Greg Wendinger to build a 720-animal unit, wean-to-finish feed lot with a 102-by-192-foot barn and 8-foot-deep concrete manure pit underneath it, 1 1/2 miles west of St. George.

At that time, West Newton residents discussed health concerns.

Wendinger's request prompted the West Newton Township Board to hold several meetings earlier last June.

At one meeting, Minnesota Department of Agriculture representing Rob Sip told the board to consider the pros and cons of adding more zoning restrictions.

Sip said feed lot expansion toolboxes include setbacks, bio filters, methane digesters, feed and manure management, windbreaks and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), among others.

"You can't prevent foul odors all the time," Sip said. "Producers are exempt from state pollution standards 21 days a year, so they can agitate their manure pits, usually in the spring and fall."

On June 19, 2008, West Newton Township supervisors approved an immediate planning and zoning study plus a year-long, interim ordinance on feed lot and farm dwellings.

The five-page ordinance stated that a balance must be maintained to avoid the growth of animal agricultural operations from negatively impacting area residents, their home values, and the environment.

St. Cloud attorney Tony Gilchrest, hired by the township, said the interim ordinance would apply to feed lot expansions of 15 percent or more of total animal units on the same property in (permit) process. It would not affect fully-permitted projects.

Proposed township ordinance changes include:

250-foot setback from the road center instead of 50 feet from the road edge to give trucks more room to maneuver without blocking county roads.

1,320-foot setback or 3 feet per animal unit, whichever is greater instead of a 660-foot county requirement to reduce annoying odors 97 percent of time instead of a 93 percent county requirement.

Several West Newton Township residents questioned the 3 feet per animal unit setback.

They argued that the setbacks could make it difficult to put any more barns on farms near Nicollet County Highway 16 between St. George and Gibbon.

Township Ordinance Committee member Frank Bianchi said all comments would be taken into consideration before a final comprehensive plan and recommendations, not ordinances, would be created.

He added that bio filters like those used at Wakefield Pork draw air out of manure pits pushed it through a wood chip filter.

Bianchi said he learned that the bio filters work best during winter months.

Wayne Schoper, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator for Brown and Nicollet Counties, called swine manure an excellent fertilizer that boosts corn yields.

"Sweep injection is better than knife injection," Schoper said regarding fertilizer application options.

Schoper said there is no evidence hat swine manure causes cancer or any debilitating disease.

He added that new swine antibiotics in manure do not make it more hazardous to humans.

Township Board members said they have invested about $1,800 mostly in legal fees, on the comprehensive plant and feed lot setback study.

The township board meets again at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 30 in the St. George Community Center before presenting recommendations to the Nicollet County Board.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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