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Officials hear views on proposed 1,500-cow dairy farm

CARRINGTON -- Between 150 and 200 people packed the Foster County Courthouse for three hours Tuesday evening while the Foster County Zoning and Planning Board heard testimony for and against a proposed 1,500-cow dairy farm three miles southeast of Carrington.

Board Chairman Leslie Greger said Corne and Conny Van Bedaf of Canada submitted a completed application for a conditional use permit.

"Everything that's supposed to be done has been done, and the public has been notified," Greger said, indicating that all the requirements have been completed to grant a permit.

Tom Erdman, member of the Carrington Area Chamber of Commerce agriculture committee, said the committee has worked to promote the livestock industry since 2004 and helped the Van Bedaf family of Canada select a site for the dairy.

"It appeared that the site was about perfect," he said.

Ag engineer finds site suitable

Shane K. Kjellberg, president of K2S Engineering, Ypsilanti, outlined the testing that was done on the site. K2S dug three test pits down 10, 12 and 14 feet to study the soil and water table in the area and found the site was appropriate for the number of dairy cows.

"In the past 10 years I've done over 100 of these test pits and holding ponds, and we have a pretty good idea of whether the location is going to work," he said.

Kjellberg said the site is one and a half miles from the Carrington aquifer and will be built up six feet above the current ground level. Sewage ponds will be surrounded by dikes. He said soil tests indicate no danger of seepage into the aquifer.

The potential of smells reaching the city are a major concern for people who live in the vicinity of the proposed dairy and in the city. Kjellberg said wind flows from the southeast toward Carrington about five percent of the time, and the well-established tree belts to the north and west side of the site will mitigate odors. He said North Dakota has never had an odor violation farther than a half mile from a dairy or hog operation, so a three-mile buffer should be sufficient.

"To give you a comparison, ponds for the city of Carrington (one half mile from the city) are clay lined and they are over the aquifer," he said.

Kjellberg also provided information on the Van Bedaf's plan for waste management, including bottom-loaded manure pits and knifing, or injecting, liquid manure into nearby farm fields twice each year. He said both practices cut down significantly on odors.

Terry Entzminger of Entzminger Dairy in Jamestown said California, with its large population and many large cities, has a $5 billion dairy industry. He said that is proof that a well-managed dairy doesn't necessarily create a negative impact on a populated area.

"People and dairies can coexist," he said.

Conny Van Bedaf told the assembly she and her husband grew up on dairy farms. They sold their dairy farm in Canada because purchasing production rights from the government had become so expensive they could no longer count on making a profit. The family looked at sites in North and South Dakota before choosing Carrington not only for the location but as a good place to raise the family's three children.

"We are going to do our best to build a nice dairy farm," she said.

Those who spoke against the proposed dairy were not convinced by the testimony.

Residents worry about pollution, property values

"It's all great but there's no guarantees," said Leo Straley, whose house sits two miles from the dairy site.

Straley said he has an open well on his property with water just eight feet from the surface and is worried about pollution. He believes ground water is much closer to the surface in many areas than engineers believe from their test pits on the site.

"I want to know who is going to be responsible if I have a problem," he said.

Several people talked about the potential for noxious smells from the dairy to reach nearby homes and the city. Joel Halvorson of Milnor said he lives one mile west of a dairy and the smell "will knock your socks off."

Emerick Erickson, who farms near the Milnor dairy, said the cloud of dust from trucks going to and from the dairy is "visual pollution."

Diane Straley said studies have shown property values decrease from 20 to 50 percent when large animal feedlots are built. She said the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the government cannot take private property without compensating the owner.

"You will be taking my property value away from me without any compensation," she said.

Barb Price of Dakota Resource Council, an organization opposed to the confinement and concentration of large numbers of livestock, said "major social issues" follow the creation of large dairy farms, including an influx of poorly paid foreign workers who don't speak English. She said those families are a drain on a community's school and health systems, as people without health insurance go to hospitals and clinics for free health care and schools are forced to hire special teachers for students who don't speak English.

Residents request site change

Marlene Smith, whose home is less than a mile from the site, said she is worried about odors, flies and rodents from the dairy driving her family indoors and no one being held responsible.

"We don't appreciate our lifestyle being changed when the dairy's built," she said.

Carrington resident Ted Keller, who organized the opposition to the dairy farm, disagreed with Kjellberg's test results, including the results of wind studies. He said a North Dakota climatology report showed winds blew from the southeast toward Carrington 20-30 percent of the time from April through October 2007. Keller then cited a North Dakota State University report showing odors from large livestock facilities can travel four to five miles.

"Just get it (the dairy site) at least five miles from town," he said.

Following the testimonies, the board voted to recess until 7 p.m. March 11 so all board members would have the opportunity to study the information presented at the hearing. The board will make a decision at that time whether to approve the conditional use permit for the Van Bedaf dairy. If the permit is approved, the recommendation will then go to the Foster County Commission for a final decision.

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