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State officials nearing decision on Devils Lake hog farm

Pete Hannebutt of the North Dakota Farm Bureau speaks Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, at Spirit Lake Casino and Resort about a hog farm proposed near Devils Lake. North Dakota likely won't reach a decision on the hog farm until after Jan. 1. April Baumgarten / Forum News Service

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- North Dakota likely won’t reach a final decision on a controversial hog farm proposed near Devils Lake until after the first of the year, state health department officials said Dec. 14.

Although the department has given preliminary approval to the farm, the state took written comments from the public through Oct. 12.

“It’s tough to put on a timeline,” said Karl Rockeman, water quality director for the North Dakota Department of Health. “We’re still reviewing public comments we received. It might take longer or shorter, depending on what we find going through the comments.”

As the department reviews the comments, it also will evaluate whether any project changes will be required, he said.

Grand Prairie Agriculture, which proposed the farm, sees “no reason why the state wouldn’t approve the project,” said Daniel Julson, one of the firm’s partners.

For Devils Lake resident Lois Steinhaus, the risks of the project outweigh any possible benefits. She and other project opponents fear the hog farm could contaminate Devils Lake and an aquifer that supplies drinking water in the area.

Those in opposition also have raised concerns about the farm’s proximity to a cemetery.

“Some of us in the area have kind of been put down, and told ‘You just don’t like farming’ or ‘You don’t like hogs.’ And that’s not it. We don’t like the location,” Steinhaus said.

In September, more than 400 people attended public hearings near St. Michael, N.D., to voice their concerns or support for the project.

David Keagle, an attorney with Bismarck-based Braaten Law Firm who has represented landowners’ concerns, said there are better spots in the state to place the farm.

“It’s a problem of siting,” Keagle said. “There are plenty of places in North Dakota where there’s a lot of wide open space. … There are other sites that may be more appropriate and wouldn’t have as many impacts on neighboring land uses.”

The project’s supporters argue there’s little merit to claims about environmental contamination.

“These hog farms are regulated more than most other livestock industries,” said Kevin Blake, president of the North Dakota Pork Council.

For instance, the farm would need to go through yearly Environmental Protection Agency audits, he added.

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