There goes the neighborhood?

Louise Oleson
Members of the Pelican Township Zoning Commission met Monday evening at 6 p.m. Guests both for and against a proposed Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) observed, but did not give input while the meeting was being conducted.

The residents of Pelican Township in western Ramsey County have had to deal with a great deal through the years.

Now they are facing a dilemma they never even considered before; what would happen if someone built a hog farm in their township?

At Monday evening’s meeting of the Pelican Township Planning and Zoning Commission and later the Pelican Township Board the topic was ordinances and none of the residents’ questions about the proposed hog farm were asked during those meetings.

Resident and Zoning Board member Tammy Tollefson explained, “We have been talking about these ordinances since 1997,” she said.

“Our biggest fear was that someone would come in here and want to build a big campground or resort, like they have at Woodland Resort. How could our roads handle all that traffic?

“We simply do not have the money to build the roads up to what they need to be, it’s hard enough to keep them barely maintained for our own use.”

They did their homework and through the years they debated the issue and learned about the North Dakota Century Code and what it says about things like campgrounds or recreational areas and, yes, CAFOs and AFOs, too, because there was always that slim chance.

Yet they never had enacted any ordinances as a township, they had merely discussed and debated what to draw up.

Meanwhile Ramsey County spent a great deal of time and effort and, yes, money, to create its own CAFO ordinances that were challenged in a court of law. The case was lost because they learned they could not enact rules that were more stringent than the state’s.

That may have also been something that held Pelican Township up from taking action on their own ordinances.

Remember, these are farmers themselves. North Dakota farmers are known to be fiercely independent and fair-minded, for the most part. They don’t want to see heavy restrictions imposed on anyone, much less fellow farmers. Government interference is not always welcome.

Thus the dilemma that now faces the Pelican Township residents.

It may have not been on the agenda, had not been advertised to the public, therefore the proposed hog farm was not to be discussed.

Not in the meetings, anyway.

But that didn’t stop the worried residents  from discussing the issue before the meetings started, between the two meetings or after they ended.

That didn’t stop Tayler Aasmundstad or his business partner, Daniel Julson from attending the Pelican Township Board meeting.

It didn’t stop them from bringing their lawyer, Tyler J. Leverington, from the firm of Ohnstad and Twichell in West Fargo.

Leverington introduced himself to the people gathered in Clark Steinhaus’ garage for the meeting explaining he had extensive experience in legally assisting CAFOs and AFOs around the state and beyond.

The discussion, on the record and off, however, continues and will until a decision has been made on the part of the state Health Department to grant the permit or not.

Karl Rockeman from the NDDoH says they have had several telephone calls about this issue, so they are going to take their time before making a decision. At some point there may even be a public hearing where peoples’ opinions are recorded and, hopefully, taken into consideration.

Until that happens, the questions remain:

How would a hog farm next door (or close by) affect the value of their property?

Would anyone ever want to buy their property should they ever need or want to sell it, if it is within a half mile, or so, of a hog farm?

What about the smell?

How would the increased traffic affect the few roads that remain usable in the township?

With prevailing winds from the west and or north west, how would a hog farm in this location affect Grahams Island? Or the city of Devils Lake?

With the high water table and close proximity to the waters of Devils Lake, how would the billion-dollar fishery be impacted by an AFO of this size or larger?

What if there’s a spill?

What if there’s a leak?

How will that impact the fish population or health or future of the lake?

Tough times

Once a thriving part of the Lake Region, like many other rural townships, Pelican has been losing population numbers for decades. Now maybe a few more than a dozen farmsteads remain inhabited with at least double that standing vacant.

Then in the 1990s Devils Lake started to rise and as it did its waters swallowed up all the chain lakes to the north and west of it.

Lois Steinhaus said when they moved out there you couldn’t even see the lake from their house.

Now, the Steinhauses have lake-front property.

Pelican Township’s roads were also swallowed up as the lake continued to raise.  Many remain underwater even today, though the lake has gone down a couple of feet recently. Of the over 30 roads only six remain viable and those just barely.

According to Clark Steinhaus who chairs the Township Board, the taxes collected to maintain and repair their township roads amounts to approximately $3,000 annually. The county’s bill for blading is about $2,300 leaving $700 for the township’s other needs.

That wouldn’t even begin to touch the cost of road repairs and maintenance if even a medium-sized campground were to be built in their neck of the woods, or a medium-sized hog farm. Those worries were some that were articulated Monday.

Ramsey County Road Supervisor Kevin Fieldsend says Pelican contracts with the county for a certain number of bladings each year but that does not include snow removal or gravel.

It wasn’t too long ago some of the residents  who were present in Monday’s meeting were unable to drive to their homes, having to leave their vehicles parked on high ground and paddle boats to their homes left high and dry on islands, completely surrounded by water.

Permit process

Since the NDDoH has received a number of phone calls since the Devils Lake Journal broke this story, that may impact how long it may take to reach a decision. It may also result in a public hearing where those who have an opinion on this matter, either for it or against it, can make comments.

Those who may be undecided or want more information could also find that at such a hearing, should one be scheduled.

If you would like to express your concerns, call Karl Rockeman at 701-328-5210 or directly at 701-328-5225 or Marty Haroldson at 701-328-5210 or 701-328-5234. You could also request in writing that a meeting be held on this issue by writing to either Karl Rockeman or Marty Haroldson at North Dakota Department of Health, Environmental Health Section, 600 East Boulevard Ave., Bismarck, ND 58505-0200.