After the Goodhue County Board approved plans for a hog farm in Zumbrota Township earlier this year, some residents united to challenge that decision.
On Sept. 21, the board was sued by a group of residents hoping to overturn the conditional-use permit given to the Kohlnhofer brothers for development of a 4,700-hog farm. By Dec. 18 the Minnesota Court of Appeals released its decision, siding with the board.
The interested group of residents, farmers and friends, aided by the Land Stewardship Project, has focused their attention on hydrogen sulfide emissions that such a facility could produce.
Collectively, last summer they conducted an independent study on several Kohlnhofer farms in southeast Minnesota, checking for air quality compliance. Their final report said that "two Kohlnhofer facilities (Holst I Finishing and Jeff Finishing) may be violating our state air quality standard."
"We met with the governor's office and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's assistant commissioner to discuss our findings," Kristi Rosenquist, a Zumbrota resident, said before the hearing. "We're calling on them to take action to protect public health."
The Minnesota Department of Health identifies hydrogen sulfide levels are high-risk at 7 parts per billion over a 13-week range (Minn. R. 4717.8150). The independent study reported that four current Kohlnhofer farms read over 7 ppb, with some at 56.48 ppb.
Dustan Cross, an attorney representing the Kohlnhofers, stated during the hearing that the independent air quality test is "a crude tool not specific enough for this situation. County administrative staff said the variable is arbitrary and capricious."
During the appeals case, three judges debated what the findings from neighbors and environmental agencies could mean for the Kohlnhofer farms.
Projects like this one have sparked concern across the region, with Wabasha County residents weighing in.
"Neighbors to a new Kohlnhofer factory farm in Wabasha County contacted Goodhue County members with concerns," said Katie Doody, Land Stewardship Project policy organizer. "These neighbors endure staggering odors, have developed coughs and one family has moved away. We are calling on the Kohlnhofers to stop their factory farm expansion in order to protect public health."
Doody said that with several existing farms in the state, the family already has "more than enough."
The independent air quality study did not conclusively prove any wrongdoing, but it did spark interest from the governor. As a result, the MPCA will conduct official studies on Holst I Finishing and Jeff Finishing, both located in Goodhue County, in early 2018.