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Court backs Goodhue County Board's decision to usher in new factory farm

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a decision by the Goodhue County Board to permit a proposed factory farm in Zumbrota Township.

Circle K Family Farms, owned by brothers Mike, Yon and Jeff Kohlnhofer, will have capacity for 4,700 hogs and include a 3.5 million gallon liquid manure storage tank. Last winter, the Goodhue County Board issued a conditional-use permit for the project that was quickly challenged by Zumbrota residents and family farmers.

At a press conference following the Dec. 18 court ruling, Frederick Fredrickson, a dairy farmer whose 538 acres neighbor a current Kohlnhofer farm, claimed that the family is unengaged with the land and promotes bad farming practices with their workers. They over apply manure, he said, which goes on to pollute a local trout brook that feeds into the Mississippi River. He chided the Kohlnhofers for alleged failure to regularly clean out manure, which leads to odor.

A main concern of Zumbrota residents is hydrogen sulfide, a toxin that they say inevitably results from a high-volume hog facility. Hydrogen sulfide can lead to health issues for people, leading to nausea, eye irritation, headache and dizziness.

To support their claim that Kohlnhofer factory farms have been unregulated and unsafe, interested citizens tested air quality over five weeks last summer at six Kohlnhofer factory farms in southeastern Minnesota. During that time, they said, the air frequently tested higher for hydrogen sulfide than is allowable due to state regulations.

Governor Mark Dayton took an interest in the group's findings and urged the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to respond.

As a result, the MPCA plans to do more continuous testing at Holst I Finishing and Jeff Finishing. Both farms are owned by the Kohlnhofers and hold 4,000 hogs or more.

The Land Stewardship Project, an environmental sustainability group that has been engaged in this issue, said that the MPCA hasn't monitored pollution at a Minnesota feedlot since 2009. The project added that the MPCA currently has just one continuous air monitor that's used for all industries in the state.

Leading off the press conference, neighbor and signature on the lawsuit Kristi Rosenquist said, "We still believe that our county failed to follow their own county ordinance and are doing nothing to protect the public health of those of us who have lived in the area anywhere from 20 years to families that have lived in Zumbrota Township for over 100 years — their ancestors have pioneered there and settled there forever."

Circle K co-owner Jeff Kohlnhofer has indicated to Land Stewardship Project that he intends to meet with the group to hear concerns from neighbors and community members. A date has not been set.

"We're pushing to get that meeting and continuing to show that people across the state are getting behind the residents of Zumbrota Township," said Katie Doody, a policy program organizer for LSP.

Following the press conference, Zumbrota residents and their supporters marched to Kohlnhofer Insurance in Lakeville, where Jeff works, to hand deliver 687 postcards from citizens throughout Minnesota who are concerned about the proposed hog farm project in Goodhue County.

Farmer and resident Dale Post shared that his granddaughter, who lives in Zumbrota Township, suffers from CDKL5 — a rare genetic disorder that would be exacerbated by polluted air.

"I'm fighting to keep our home healthy and not just for myself but for future generations," Post said. "We know that the Kohlnhofers' proposal for a 4,700 hog factory farm in our township will not be safe for our community ... (My granddaughter) should not have to leave because of a factory farm."