Buffalo hog farm opponents argue permit process was flawed, unfair
FARGO — Landowners living near a planned industrial hog farm near Buffalo in rural Cass County argue that significant changes made to the permit should have reopened the case for more public comment.
The arguments Monday, Feb. 6, in Cass County District Court on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Buffalo, were in opposition to Pipestone Holdings’ Rolling Green Family Farms, a 9,000-swine factory farm, which would be built about 40 miles west of Fargo.
Derrick Braaten, a lawyer for the opposing landowners, argued that state health officials erred by not requiring the hog farm to apply for a discharge permit, used to protect water sources, as well as the required animal feeding permit.
In fact, the initial notice for the $15 million hog farm was for a discharge permit, but a lawyer for the North Dakota Department of Health argued that was a minor error, later corrected, and the feeding permit is all that was required.
Braaten also argued that major changes were made to the permit without public notice and after the public comment — changes significant enough that health officials should have reopened the public comment period.
Although there was no public notification after the public hearing, health officials and Rolling Green representatives exchanged “hundreds if not thousands” of pages of information, he said.
One change was the addition of more than 2,400 acres to the 3,300 acres originally approved to spread manure from the hog farm on surrounding fields. The farm will generate an estimated 6.39 million gallons of manure a year.
“There was a lot of land added that we never had the opportunity to comment on,” Braaten said.
Maggie Olson, an assistant attorney general representing the health department, said the larger land mass means any runoff from the fields would be less concentrated, and therefore pose less of a risk to waterways.
“The important thing is there are adequate acres in place,” she said.
But Braaten countered that neighbors are concerned that the odor problems from the manure now will be spread over a larger area.
The citizens group also complained that they were not notified of the significant number of piglets that will be born at the factory farm, almost 200,000 over the span of a year.
Adding the animal units — a way of computing the manure that will be generated from a large livestock operation — for the piglets, according to Braaten’s calculations, would exceed the limit for the standard one-mile setback and require a mile and a half setback, he said.
“This is a fundamental change,” Bratten said. As such, it should have reopened the permit application for further public comment, he added. Later he said: “The question today is whether the health department has to follow the process, whether the citizens have a voice in that process.”
State officials held a hearing on the proposal in March for a packed crowd in Buffalo, after initially not planning to do so.
Rob Forward, a lawyer for Rolling Green Family Farms, said allowing public comments in the permitting process is discretionary, not mandatory. He said the farm’s opponents had made only “vague constitutional arguments” and their challenge should be rejected.
Judge Doug Herman, who asked frequent questions during Monday’s hearing, said he will rule as quickly as possible.