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Town board recesses on CHS zoning request

Editor's Note: The Feb. 17 article “Town board recesses on CHS zoning request” contained some inaccuracies. The land for which CHS Prairie Lakes is requesting reclassification is currently owned by Todd and Tracy Hughes, not “previously owned” as incorrectly stated in Saturday’s article.

Also, the Todd Township Board of Supervisors approved the administrative split and forwarded it to the county for recording. This was not a recommendation and did not require approval by the Hubbard County Board. The Enterprise regrets these errors.

The Todd Township Board agreed Monday to recommend a land split, as requested by CHS Prairie Lakes.

The decision would affect an approximately 37-acre agricultural property at the southwest corner of County Road 48 and 129th Avenue, approximately three miles northwest of Park Rapids.

The requested split divides a farm currently owned by Todd and Tracy Hughes into a 10-acre parcel for ongoing agricultural use and another tract of approximately 27 acres, where CHS hopes to build an agronomy facility to store seed and fertilizer.

Also on the board's agenda was a request by CHS to reclassify that 27-acre piece as commercial. Action on this request was recessed until a special meeting Friday to allow Hubbard County to approve the land split first. Zoning Administrator Bridget Chard advised the town board that approving the zoning request before the county completes the split would turn the entire 37-acre farm commercial.

More than 30 guests were present at the meeting, including CHS representatives and a large contingent of residents calling for public comment about the planned facility.

Supervisors were divided about whether to open the floor for public comment. Chard advised the residents the required hearing already took place Jan. 29 with the township planning commission.

After a citizen shouted, "Give us a chance to speak," town board chairman James Schauer allowed residents a few minutes to voice their concerns. Those present expressed strong opposition to the project.

Cliff Branham said the soil type in the description of the property was not suitable, and issues about the facility's effects on the aquifer have not been adequately addressed.

"Where's the liability?" Branham asked. "Down the road, if the nitrate levels start going higher, who's going to be responsible for it?"

Schauer contended with Branham's claim the CHS facility would affect the nearby wellhead protection plan or the Crow Wing watershed.

Branham cited a 2016 study of 220 wells in Todd Township, with 9.5 percent exceeding limits of contamination that are safe for children to drink.

Schauer argued studies like this are flawed because they do not distinguish between deep and shallow wells.

Norm Renes, who lives on County Road 18, said, "My water is right at the maximum, and it wasn't there in '99 when we bought the place. If there was a family with a baby living in our house, they would have to drill a deep well. That's how close we are."

Julie Kingsley, district manager with the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District, said, "The Department of Agriculture is going back for the second year right now, and those wells that tested at greater than 10 mg per liter have been re-tested by the Department of Ag and not the landowner doing it. I was trying to get data for you today, but they aren't done crunching the numbers yet for Hubbard County. So, I think that's something that maybe you should look at in the future. I'll get the information to you as soon as you can. But I think you should know what's going on in the area."

Diane Wylie asked whether anyone on the town board lives close to the planned facility. Board member Bob Meier said he and members of the planning commission live rather close.

Several residents disputed whether adequate notice was given of the Jan. 29 hearing. Chard said she has an affidavit showing the notice was mailed as required 14 days before the hearing.

David Collins, executive director with the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, objected to the one-sided discussion, and urged that CHS be given a regular hearing to present its side of the issue.

Before Schauer closed discussion about the planned facility, various residents asked questions about the community's preparedness for hazardous material spills, evacuation plans for nearby households, Department of Agriculture permits, and a spate of landowners placing their property up for sale.

Responding to repeated accusations that the township was "railroading" the project over residents' opposition, Meier reminded the crowd they had only acted, so far, on the request to split the property.

The Todd Township board's next regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, March 12 in the downstairs meeting room at the county social services office.