Douglas County commissioners approved an amended conditional use permit for the Wagner family’s feedlot at Tuesday’s regular County Board meeting.

The Wagners – Joe, Hope, Wayne and Alice – were the applicants of the permit, but Joe and Hope are the ones who farm. They have a beef cattle farm in Millerville Township.

The application was to amend an existing conditional use permit allowing 6,800 animal units, to address some deficiencies in the operation of the feedlot facility and to clarify the conditions of the operations. Animal units are based on weight and not the number of actual animals.

Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush provided background for the commissioners, as well as about 15 people who attended the public hearing on the feedlot.

The land has been used for agricultural production for decades, including animal production and registration as a feedlot. In 2006, a conditional use application was applied for and approved to expand the operation. Ten years later, another permit was applied for – this time to expand from the 680 animal units to 6,800 animal units. It was quite a lengthy and extensive process, said Rush.

In late 2016, the county approved the conditional use permit for the feedlot expansion. The permit had 18 conditions the family had to meet, however.

Additional work on the expansion was then delayed due to changes in design and subsequent re-issuance of state permits. In January of 2018, Joe Wagner was issued a land use permit for two mono-slope confinement barns. As of Rush’s report to the county, work had not yet begun on the barns.

Earlier this year, Rush said the county was made aware of possible compliance issues.

“We discovered some inconsistencies with the operation, as well as unpermitted lot issues and manure storage issues,” he said. “What makes this challenging is the 2006 permit and the 2016 permit.”

His office began working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and after an inspection was done, which include aerial photos, started working with the Wagner family. In July, Wagner was sent a letter detailing the items he had to work on. Shortly after, Wagner began the process and has since met all the requirements that were asked of him, Rush said.

Today, Rush said they continue to work with the Wagners on making it clearer on how the operation can continue and expand and how the county will be monitoring it.

The recommendations to the county were to remove the 2006 conditional use permit in its entirety and amend the 2016 one to address the issues, which will simplify the operation under one, stronger permit.

The new amended and approved conditional use permit has 29 conditions the Wagners must adhere to that deal with size, manure, types and quantity of animals, runoff basins, lighting, inspection process and more.

In addition, because the county has incurred significant time and expense, including attorney fees, monitoring and evaluating the feedlot’s operation and expansion, and because the county will incur expenses in the future, Joe Wagner has agreed to reimburse the county $25,000.

During the public hearing, a couple of people spoke. George Davis said his biggest concern was the cattle pasturing in the creek that leads into Lake Aaron. He doesn’t want Wagner’s cattle in the creek, he said. He feels Lake Aaron could become polluted and then the values of homes would drop.

“He needs to block off cattle from getting into the creek,” Davis said.

Steve Henry, president of the Douglas County Lakes Association, said that if the conditions are met, the lake association has no problems with the expanded feedlot.

Davis also questioned how the public was notified of the meeting, as well as the time of the meeting. Rush said notices were mailed out and in the newspaper according to state statutes.

“We mailed out close to 100 notices and it was listed in the newspaper,” said Rush.

After the public hearing was closed, Rush addressed the issue of pasturing animals. He said the county does not have the ability to regulate the pasturing of animals and that he hopes, however, that farmers are cognizant of where they are pasturing their animals.