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North Dakota Senate passes bill on animal feeding operation setbacks

One of the latest of Pipestone System's sow farms is called Jackrabbit Farm near Mitchell, S.D. The same firm was behind a proposed hog farm near Buffalo, N.D., in rural Cass County. Special to The Forum

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate approved a bill requiring local governments to justify larger setbacks imposed on animal feeding operations Tuesday, April 23.

The new version of Senate Bill 2345 was approved along party lines in a House-Senate conference committee Monday afternoon before it passed the full Senate in a 36-11 vote Tuesday. It still must pass the House before it's sent to Republican Gov. Doug Burgum.

Critics have warned that the bill represents an infringement on local control, while proponents say it will help boost the state's livestock industry and thus promote rural economies and crop markets.

As passed by the House earlier this month, the bill would have removed local governments' ability to impose longer setbacks than the state's requirements for livestock feeding operations. For the largest such facilities, the state's setback is 1.5 miles.

The compromise version of the bill still gives local governments the ability to impose larger setbacks, but requires that they "demonstrate compelling, objective evidence" that they're needed. Setbacks are buffers designed to minimize a facility's impact to homes and businesses.

Under the bill, a person whose animal feeding operation is affected by a larger local setback would be able to request the state agriculture commissioner to review the ordinance. The agriculture commissioner could then seek an attorney general's opinion on whether the setback is lawful.

Fairmount Republican Sen. Larry Luick, who chaired the conference committee, defended the setback requirements included in the bill and argued it didn't take away local authority.

"Current code is that they don't have to do anything. They can say out of a whim, 'I don't like you ... so I'm not going to allow you to do anything, I'm going to mandate that your setback is going to be an extra 50 percent distance,'" he said.

Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, a Fargo Democrat who was a member of the conference committee, said she was concerned that the bill was "limiting" local governments based on a small amount of issues. Proposed hog farms in Cass and Ramsey counties have run into local opposition and spawned lawsuits.

But Dobervich welcomed an amendment requiring a report from the new state Department of Environmental Quality on animal feeding operation permit applications that were approved or denied.

Aaron Birst, legal counsel for the North Dakota Association of Counties, said the new setback requirements alleviate some concerns stemming from the House version of the bill. The legislation also institutes a "shot clock" giving local governments 60 days to decide whether a proposed facility complies with zoning regulations, he said.

Birst said that timeline is "kind of tight," especially for townships officers who meet less regularly.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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