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Court affirms hog farm permit, but state to monitor air at others

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Updated: 4:53 p.m. | Posted: 2:33 p.m.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a permit for a hog facility in Goodhue County that neighbors had tried to stop. 

Circle K Farms proposed a 4,700-hog facility near Zumbrota Township, and the county board approved a conditional use permit. Neighbors challenged the permit, but the appeals judges said local officials have wide latitude in land-use decisions and that Goodhue County followed procedures. 

The dispute highlights friction that often exists between Minnesota companies that are part of the global food system and rural residents concerned that agriculture harms the local environment. 

The neighbors, backed by the Land Stewardship Project, say they will continue to oppose the new farm. In September, the group released a report on its citizen air monitoring efforts near other Circle K hog farms in Goodhue County. It also clashed with family members of the company's owners in Lakeville. 

The report claimed existing farms were violating limits on hydrogen sulfide, a gas emitted from animal waste that's harmful to health. Following the group's complaints, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency earlier this month said it will conduct continuous air monitoring at one of Circle K Farms' existing facilities next spring. 

The MPCA also said it did some air tests this fall but would need a full season of testing to replicate any of the citizens' findings.  

"We are concerned about potential violations of the hydrogen sulfide air quality standards and Department of Health Risk Values at two hog facilities in Goodhue County," Commissioner John Linc Stine said in the letter to Land Stewardship Project members.

Jeff Kohlnhofer, one of Circle K Farms' owners, said he and his brothers feel they are being singled out for the air monitoring, and he questioned whether the response by the MPCA was politically motivated, calling the commissioner and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton "anti-farm." 

"We started farming in the early '80s. This is the only way we've ever farmed," he said.

The company has dismissed the citizen air monitoring, pointing out that some of those who did the testing were also involved in the lawsuit aimed at stopping the new farm. 

"Circle K is, and will remain, committed to managing its farms in a manner that is consistent with all applicable laws and that protects the health and well-being of its neighbors," the statement read.

Kathy Bramble, one of the neighbors fighting the new hog farm, said the group has reached out to the company's owners.

"We want them to hear us and take action," she said during a news conference the Land Stewardship Project broadcast via Facebook Live. "We want them to protect what is truly valuable."

Besides air pollution, Bramble and other members of the Land Stewardship Project said they are concerned about large farms polluting trout streams and other water resources.