Commissioners deny Berkner farm permit application

Staff photo by Fritz Busch DeLoy Berkner, far left, of rural Sleepy Eye talks at the Brown County Board of Commissioners meeting July 24. Commissioners disapproved of Berkner’s Conditional Use Permit (CUP) Application for a beef cattle operation expansion, by a 3-2 vote. Four votes are needed to approve a CUP application, Brown County Attorney Chuck Hanson said at the meeting.

NEW ULM — By a 3-2 vote July 24, Brown County Commissioners denied Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application filed by DeLoy Berkner on property owned by Ed Berkner in Section 13, Leavenworth Township, leaving it one vote short of passage.

Commissioners Scott Windschitl and David Borchert voted against the application. Brown County Attorney Chuck Hanson said a two-thirds majority (four affirmative votes) were needed in Brown County to approve a Conditional Use Permit, so the measure was denied.

In addition, Hanson said the application that would have allowed expansion from a previously permitted 700 AU (animal units) to 1,690 AU in a beef cattle operation all in the A-1 Agricultural Protection Zoning District, could be reapplied for after one year.

Hanson said the application could only be reconsidered earlier than that if new evidence or a change of circumstances takes place.

The application was unanimously approved by the Brown County Planning Commission last week. The Berkners explained they were working closely with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on a state permit for the site. The Planning Commission added dust control measures to the application, after neighbors complained about it at that meeting.

“I feel it’s sad we turned down a site the State of Minnesota is closely monitoring,” said Commissioner Dennis Potter. “It’s a sad day for our County….This is A-1 agricultural land. There will be dust and smell. It’s part of farming.”

“I hope we can resolve this,” said Commissioner Dean Simonsen.

Windschitl said road safety issues were his top concern.

“The roads are narrow and the trucks are big,” Windschitl said. “A petition lists 44 people in opposition to it. That’s a lot. I agree this is an agricultural district.”

DeLoy Berkner said the petition against the application included people that live more than two miles from his farm.

“We put 600 feet of calcium chloride down for dust control. We’re good by the State which has very strict guidelines,” Berkner said. “My back and my dad’s back are getting sore. We need to introduce this to younger generations.”

Berkner’s application included a letter dated June 18, 2018 from MPCA East Feedlot Unit Watershed Division Steven Schmidt that included the final facility permit that would expire May 31, 2023.

Neighbor Gerald Helget said dust control isn’t working.

Dorothy Helget complained of strong odors.

“The air flows like floodwater, going where it wants,” she said. “We need young farmers and clean, country air.”

Ed Berkner said people should live in town to avoid farm odors.

“Two young men are just trying to make some money farming,” said Colleen Berkner. “It’s hard to farm today.”

“The Berkners said if we can’t take the smell, move out,” said Gerald Helget. “Where are our rights?”

Commissioners approved:

• A Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) offer of an 80-20 match to hire an historian to help in replacing bridge 2110, aka the Franklin or Hale Bridge July 24.

The bridge on CSAH 8 over the Minnesota River is Brown County’s last truss bridge. Structurally deficient with a low sufficiency rating, the historic bridge was closed Aug. 1, 2017 after the discovery of a critical deficiency. The 17 feet wide, 250 feet long, six-span bridge was load posted at five tons for several years due to other structural problems.

In February, commissioners decided to accept federal off system funds to pay 80 percent of eligible costs to replace the bridge. Options ranging in cost from $1,196,000 to $1,831,000 include overtopping designs that vary in approach length and would raise the bridge deck four or six feet.

Since the bridge is historic, a study is required to justify bridge replacement. Alternatives must be investigated and shown to be unreasonable to justify replacement.

It is estimated that the 20 percent County share would cost less than $10,000. If the County hires a historian, it must be from a MnDOT-approved list.

A design engineer is also needed to work with the historian and design bridge structure that results from the study.

“They (State of Minnesota) waste dollars,” said Commissioner Potter. “Money is being spent that won’t benefit people that use this bridge.”

Commissioner Windschitl called the bridge “nothing but a money sucker.”

• A design engineer’s proposal to replace the bridge. There are $1,200,000 in federal funds in the 2022 Minnesota Transportation Improve- ment Plan for the project.

“We can close the bridge too,” Commissioner Windschitl said.

“2022 sounds like a long ways away, but it’s not,” Commissioner Potter said.

• The $783,085 2019 Heartland Express Grant Application Budget plus $83,000 for a replacement bus. In addition, a resolution to enter into operational and capital contracts with MnDOT will be considered.

• Planning Commission recommendations including a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application by Dean Schneider, Section 33, Sigel Township to renew and amend an existing CUP to allow expansion from 936 animal units (AU) to 1,560 AU (5,200 head) of finishing swine, all in the A-1 Agricultural Protection Zoning District.

In addition, Final Plat Applications by Jed Lutgen, Section 17, Home Township on property owned by Allan Merkel. Split is a multi-lot subdivision in the A-1 Zone; and filed by Brian Domeier, Section 14, Sigel Township. Subdivision is an existing platted lot being split into two lots; and a Preliminary Plat Application filed by Casandra Anderson, 4.85 acres in Section 28, Burnstown Township. Parcel being platted is an existing building site being split off from tilled ground.

• Setting Redetermination of Benefit public hearings for County Ditch 35 and ROB for 11 a.m., CD 57 11:20 a.m. and CD 69 11:35 a.m., all on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

• The purchase of locked cabinet doors for the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office work center from Staple Business Advantage for $2,218.07.

• Approving Brown County Public Health to submit a letter of commitment for the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program Planning Grant through HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) with the New Ulm Medical Center as the lead applicant.

Grant funds of up to $200,000 will fund a project director and a consultant to help with evaluation and analysis of area opioid issues.