Saturday, October 11, 2003

Board considers dairy-operation plan

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

By Joshua Lynsen

The Rochester Post-Bulletin

CLAREMONT -- A major dairy operation proposed for Dodge County cleared a significant hurdle Monday when officials agreed to continue discussing it.

Members of the Ripley Township Board voted unanimously to accept the preliminary plan as viable. The vote did not approve the proposal, but instead indicated that board members like what they've seen.

Bill Rowekamp of Lewiston, who hopes to operate the 3,000-cow farm, said Monday's decision was significant.

"This was a make-or-break meeting," he said. "They could have killed it right here. This was a huge decision tonight."

Plans for the dairy operation were first proposed last year. Conceived as two farms, with one each in Ashland and Ripley townships, the entire operation would house 4,200 cows. Both proposed sites covered more than 400 acres.

As opposition to the plan grew, it was revised. Ben Zaitz, who owns the sites, scaled back the proposal. Despite the changes, officials in Dodge County's Ashland Township voted to place a yearlong moratorium on the construction of large farms.

Many residents sought similar action in Ripley Township. But township board Chairman Bruce Schmoll told the 200 people who attended Monday's meeting the proposed farm had such great potential to help the local agriculture industry that individual concerns were trumped.

"We can't just look at what the residents want," he said. "We have to look at the big picture. If that upsets you, I'm sorry."

Should officials approve the proposal, it would become the largest dairy operation in Minnesota. Currently, the largest dairy operation among the 6,600 in Minnesota is Northern Plains Dairy near St. Peter. It has 2,500 cows.

Township officials indicated Monday that any approval likely would come with many conditions. Schmoll said he favors the two dozen conditions suggested earlier this year by the Dairy Review Committee.

If taken as presented, the suggestions would require Zaitz to open his facility to inspectors at least four times annually and process manure to reduce odors, among many other measures.

Rowekamp said he will continue working with officials to obtain their approval. He hopes to receive that approval yet this year, but Rowekamp said he will give the proposal as much time as it needs.

"We're in this for the long haul," he said. "We're going to see this through to completion."

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