Economic Development Board Approves First Proposals To Aid Feedlots

Aug 19, 2019

Hand County Commissioners must consider whether to approve a new conditional use permit. That approval could come with a nearly half a million dollar allowance. Critics are calling the state program that provides that money a bribe.

Hand County could see another animal feedlot operation.

The East River county is already home to half a dozen concentrated livestock operations.

This week, state officials approved an incentive package that could help land the new hog farm. But, the move could also complicate the county commissioners approval.

Pat Moriarty lives just south of Miller, and a few miles away from the site of a proposed Concentrated Feedlot Operation. The project calls for about 9,000 hogs. Moriarty worries about the potential affect to the environment, like nearby wetlands managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I listen to the birds in the morning and that’s going to be impacted,” Moriarty says. “There are going to be people going in and out of there all the time. It’s probably going to change where the birds end up.”

After a recent Hand County Zoning Board meeting, Moriarty says odor from the feedlot will degrade her quality of life.

“I won’t be able to put my clothes on the line anymore, I’m not going to be able to sit out in the yard. We don’t have air conditioning, so we rely on nature’s air conditioning… I’m not going to be able to use that.”

Moriarty’s husband Bob has a chronic lung condition. Pat says she suffers from an irregular heartbeat. She worries about possible health effects.

A DeSmet-based company, Ratio LLC, is behind the new venture.  Kirk Aughenbaugh will run the operation. They expect to employ nearly 20 people. They’re working with Minnesota-based Pipestone System to build the breeding farm. Officials from both companies declined to comment for this story.

The state incentive program will give back taxes collected on the project to the county. This project is one of the first in the state since the program was announced.

Joe Fiala is a community development director for the Office of Economic Development. He says to qualify for the state incentive, a project must meet two conditions.

“It has to add new livestock to the state,” Fiala says. “Secondly, it needs to require a newly issued conditional use permit.”

The new hog feedlot proposed for Hand County is big enough that it would require a conditional use permit. That threshold is determined by either the state or county.

The livestock development program combines two existing state programs into one—the Reinvestment Payment Program and the South Dakota Jobs Program. Fiala says the state legislature created those programs in 2013 and they have primarily been used for manufacturing and wind energy.

“This initiative has been set up to try to encourage livestock development, but only in those counties where they see livestock development as a fit,” Fiala says.

Hand County residents opposed to the new hog farm say they’ve seen a letter from the state to project developers. It says the county could see nearly half a million dollars from the project.

Residents also say, without the incentives, the company might not get county approval.

“It’s one that doesn’t smell right to me.”

That’s Mitch Peterson, an attorney from Sioux Falls representing the concerned land owners in Hand County.
Peterson sees the livestock development program as the state attempting to sway county-level decisions.

“The counties are supposed to be making decisions on their own about what goes on in the county from a regulatory standpoint,” Peterson says. “So, when you have such a large financial incentive from the state, that doesn’t fit well—in my view—of state and local control.”

During the recent Hand County zoning meeting, some residents compared the state incentive to a bribe.

JD Wangsness is chair of the Hand county commission. He says the livestock development program is not a bribe, but it’s something new the commission must consider.

“So, it is a pretty big incentive from the state,” Wangsness says. “It makes these kinds of proceedings more difficult, because it’s a pretty big elephant standing there in the room.”

In fact, the potential of a local windfall from a new hog operation brought out many local residents opposed to the project to recent zoning meetings. Wangsness says the possibility of almost half a million dollars in incentive payments won’t sway his decision.

“We know it’s out there. If this thing doesn’t fit, I’m not going to vote for it just because that letter is there,” Wangness says. “The rest of the board is going to feel the same way about it.”

Wangsness says their vote will likely come at a September meeting.