How many hogs to allow?
How many hogs should be allowed to be raised in Verona Township?
Once again, many citizens of Verona Township filled the township supervisors meeting room in the former Huntley School building to raise their concerns about changing a long-standing livestock ordinance.
With people speaking on both sides of the issue, emotions flared up several times and the meeting got heated.
Currently, Verona Township is one of the few townships in the state to have its own ordinance concerning livestock operations, among other things. It was developed in 1999.
Back in June of 2015, the board looked at possibly abolishing the ordinance and adopting the county ordinance instead.
However, a motion to do so failed to get a second, and not vote was taken.
Now, the board is again considering possibly abolishing the ordinance and adopting the new county ordinance. But, the current township ordinance is much more strict than the county one and many residents favor keeping it in place.
“It has to do with how many animals will be allowed, on how many acres and how far the setbacks (from other property) have to be for the buildings,” explained township supervisor Darwin Olson. “Both ordinances have restrictions.”
He volunteered to be the moderator and said the board wished to hear the pros and cons to the proposal and whether there is a reason to change it or not.
Resident Robert Kesselring spoke several times opposing any change.
“I live near all the hog operations across the line into Martin County,” he said. “Martin County is covered with them (hog operations) and the smell is offensive. Why can’t we keep Verona Township clean? We have more houses and people and a golf course here. Why smell up our county?”
Other residents also spoke opposing any changes to the ordinance, including Kesselring’s son, who called the hog smell not only offensive but toxic as well.
Others said they did not want to have large corporate hog farm operations in the township, owned by people who do not even live in the county.
But, while quite a few residents spoke against any change, a couple of young farmers spoke in favor.
“The only way for me to be a young farmer and eventually try to farm my own operation is to diversify into livestock,” said Andrew Bell. “Without an animal operation I can’t do it. I?can’t just rent an 80 (acres of land) and farm it for the fun of it. In order to be a profitable profession for young farmers you’ve got to have livestock.”
He added that the rest of the county seems to be doing well with the county ordinance.
“They (hog operations) in the rest of the county are not offensive,” he said. “And Faribault County has not had a problem with corporate hog farms.”
His father, Jeff Bell, agreed, saying the rest of the county does not have an issue with hog farms.
“I live in Jo Daviess Township but I farm some land in Verona,” Bell said. “I just built a new house on my farm within 500 feet of my hog barns. Pigs have always smelled. But I think we do need livestock on our farms and we need to be fair as to how it is allowed to be done.”
He said the county ordinance still restricts the requirements for hog operations.
Faribault County commissioner Greg Young urged the township board to consider the wishes of the people they serve.
“More than 50 percent of the residents signed a petition to leave the ordinance in place,” Young said. “I would like to see you follow the wishes of the people. And not lose local control to the county.”
Township board member Olson explained the board had hoped to form a group of people from both sides of the issue and see if there was a way to reach an agreement on the question.
“It is going to come down to us, to make the decision,” he said. “This is by far the most controversial issue we have ever dealt with here. And it is good to hear from both sides of this issue.”
One woman, who stated she opposed any change to the ordinance, agreed it was important that the hog farmers also be heard.
She urged the formation of a group or committee that could look at some possible changes or compromises to the current ordinance. Otherwise, she added, they (the township residents) will all be coming back to future meetings until something is decided.
Several persons at the meeting, including commissioner Young, volunteered to serve on such a committee.
“This is what we need (a smaller group),” Olson said. “This is what we were trying to have happen tonight, and not have another open public forum. We already had that.”
And, while several of the 37 people present at the meeting demanded to know when a decision would be made, the board did not set a timeline for any action.