Who is in charge?
That is what Loria Rebuffoni, Planning and Zoning Administrator considered the ongoing ‘hiccups’ that coincide with a conditional use permit (CUP) to build a swine confinement facility in Section 25 of Jo Daviess Township during the Faribault County Board meeting last Nov. 6.
The greatest hiccup? Designating Faribault County as its responsible governmental unit, or RGU, when, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), it should be them the MPCA.
Sound confusing? Rebuffoni admits that this process has become very confusing.
“It seems there was an error allocating the RGU to the county,” said Rebuffoni.
According to MPCA’s website, an environmental assessment worksheet, or EAW, is mandatory for the construction of a new feedlot with a capacity of 1,000 or more animal units. An EAW provides an overview of a project’s possible impact on land, air and water. It can help determine if a more extensive environmental impact statement is required.
To determine the EAW?thresholds, the Environmental Quality Board rules apply, and a review process occurs.
The environmental review process occurs before or simultaneously with the permitting process. No permits can be issued or final approvals granted until the environmental review process has been completed, which could include the preparation of an environmental impact statement, if required by the RGU.
The county board’s first order of business was to determine the need for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, or EAW, and from there, determine who the RGU?was in order to propose the actual recommendation of the CUP.
Rebuffoni’s formal recommendation was to remand the conditional use permit (CUP) back to the Planning Commission for the Nov. 13 County Board meeting for further evaluation and to provide a more factual basis through that recommendation. That recommendation would have then gone to the Nov. 20 County Board meeting for a final decision.
The county had other options, as well, which included contingently approving the CUP pending an MPCA State Permit, denying the CUP based on County?Board decisions, or tabling the meeting to Nov. 20, where the board could approve or deny the CUP.
However, before the County Board could do that, they had to determine who the RGU was, due to a clerical error.
On Oct. 22, the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) issued a transmittal letter to Faribault County regarding the petition for an EAW for the “Larry Twedt 3,020 Head Swine Finishing Barn Project” and informed the county that it is the RGU to decide the need for an EAW.
Upon further research, it was determined that the project is exempt from an EAW per a Minnesota?Administrative Rule because the project is less than 1,000 animal units per state rule.
With MPCA representatives Steven Schmidt (East Unit Feedlot Supervisor) and Reba Van Beusekom Environmental Specialist, present in the Nov. 6, Faribault County Board of Commissions meeting, it was found that through a designation error by the EQB, the MPCA should have been the RGU regarding the CUP, and not the Faribault County Commissioners.
“If we are not the RGU, we need to send this back,” said Commissioner Tom Loveall.
“I don’t want an agency in the Twin Cities dealing with this, we are here, and we should be deciding this,” said Commissioner Tom Warmka.
“The MPCA is responsible governmental unit, we would be issuing the permit,” said Schmidt to the Board. “The pig lot is at a size where it is tripping federal rules, but not state rules. They meet the federal rules, but are not meeting state rules as a gap site. Those sites have to be permitted by the state.”
“So you will be the feedlot permit body?” questioned Warmka, to which Schmidt responded, yes.
“We cannot compound our errors, this needs to be followed by the law,” was Loveall’s addition to the conversation. “If it comes back to us, it comes back to us. We know the government can give wrong answers.”
A motion was made by Loveall to decline the RGU designation and resubmit the CUP, with a second made by Bill Groskreutz. After some discussion, the motion was passed unanimously.
Rebuffoni stated the redesignation would take a few weeks, permitting the MPCA would accept the redesignation.
“Then once the notification process happens, the County Board can make the decision on the CUP,” said Rebuffoni. “So, if we send it back to the Planning Commission, they can provide a recommendation. Basically we’re going to just wait to hear from the EQB and we will take action at the next available meeting.”
This brought in more questions from the confused commissioners.
“I don’t see a reason to send it back at this point until we know for sure what the MPCA is going to say,” said Commissioner Groskreutz.
“What would happen if we don’t send it back to the EQB to make a decision?” questioned Commissioner Young.
Rebuffoni explained there were two different processes going on.
“I think it is a good idea to send it back to the Planning Commission to get a more thorough and fresh recommendation on the table from the EQB,” she explained. “You can still take all of those documents and decisions into consideration for your CUP. It’s just off the table for the EQB.?I would not worry about timing out, I would worry about a correct process and getting thorough findings.”
“Alright I’m confused,” said Commissioner Loveall. “We were thinking you would task the Planning Commission again after you see if you’ve got a ruling on the EAW from the MPCA. Wouldn’t that be part of the Planning Commission’s discussion?”
“Not necessarily. They would be frozen in their process if, for some reason, an EAW?would be requested, but it is still a good idea to give the Planning Commission time to vet out some of those documents that have been received and make an informed decision,” said Rebuffoni.
Schmidt then interrupted, stating once the petition has been submitted, those authorities would give direction towards the commissioner’s questions.
“You’re standing on rocky ground right now, I want you to be careful,” he stated.
After more discussion the County Board chair looked for a motion to task the Planning Commission with the EAW. Commissioner John Roper made the motion, but due to a lack of a second, the motion died. The county commissioners then, on Rebuffoni’s suggestion, retabled the issue until Nov. 20, at 9:30 a.m., during the commissioner’s regular meeting.
That did not stop concerned citizens from coming to the commissioners with their concerns. A number of area residents made reappearances voicing their concerns about the hog facility, only this time, there were a few more people siding with the Twedt’s project. Once the chairman closed public comment, the county commissioners moved on to other topics.
The Board also heard from the Faribault County Sheriff’s Department, who requested their approval to purchase three Ford Police Interceptor (Explorer) SUV’s from Morrow Brothers Ford in Glenfield, Illinois, for the quoted price of $91,450. This request came after the department was notified that Ford cut production of the 2019 Police Explorer and the raised price on the 2020 Police Explorer was increased by $8,000 per unit.