Legislature considers limiting nuisance lawsuits against feedlots

REUTERS/Daniel Acker

These neighbors stink. The Star Tribune’s Josephine Marcotty reports: “A bitter three-year legal battle between a Todd County hog farm and neighbors forced out of their homes by foul smells has become a flash point in the larger fight over Minnesota’s expanding pork business and the power of rural residents to protect their tranquil way of life. … The struggle has spilled over into the Legislature, where pork producers are trying to limit so-called nuisance suits brought by feedlot neighbors. … Together they illustrate how dramatically rural life in Minnesota has changed as farms grow bigger and more mechanized.”

Some Prince investigation documents were unsealed today. CNN reports: “Opioid painkillers — some in prescription bottles with the name Kirk Johnson on them — were found in several places in Paisley Park following Prince’s death last year, court documents unsealed Monday showed. … Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg said he wrote an Oxycodone prescription for Prince under the name of Johnson, the singer’s estate manager and longtime friend, for privacy purposes, according to a search warrant that was among the documents unsealed.”

Another pipeline. The Duluth News Tribune’s Brooks Johnson reports: “State officials say it ‘presents significant issues.’ … Opponents have said it could ‘desecrate our lands, violate our treaty rights or poison our water.’ … Another oil pipeline fight is heating up. … Enbridge is seeking Minnesota’s approval to build a new pipeline to replace its aging Line 3, which would expand capacity and carve a new path for pipelines across the state. Before that can happen, the project is going under the microscope of an environmental review.”

Traffic circles? That seems like more of a Minneapolis idea. The Pioneer Press’ Frederick Melo writes: “St. Paul officials have repeatedly laid out a vision for bikeable, walkable city streets in a series of plans that even include a commitment to building “8-80” cities navigable by anyone age 8 to 80. … There’s also the St. Paul Bicycle Plan calling for street improvements to make urban cycling accessible to most families. … But the city’s commitment to this vision was questioned this month after the city council voted to eliminate two planned traffic circles from Idaho Avenue, an east-west link to Lake Phalen on St. Paul’s East Side.”

In other news…

The under-the-radar AG race: “Republican Harry Niska running for Minnesota Attorney General” [Pioneer Press]

Impressive: “Volunteer merrily completes 50,000 tax returns” [KARE]

One steel industry doing well in northern MN: “Steelhead working their way back to North Shore” [Star Tribune]

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/17/2017 - 01:20 pm.

    “Nuisance” suits

    …because nothing says “I’m a good neighbor” like the excrement from 1,000 hogs resting in a lagoon upwind of someone’s home. If you buy a home next to a hog producer, well… caveat emptor, much like buying a home in south Minneapolis that’s in the MSP traffic pattern. It does no good to complain about something detrimental that was already there when you bought the house. That doesn’t account, however, for the family that’s been living next to a small farm for years, maybe decades, then that farm being converted to a modern hog operation, with attendant waste, odors, and other associated aggravations. You have to visit one of these places to get an idea of the stench, and they often don’t much like visitors for that reason.

    Industry spokesmen quoted in the ‘Strib this morning mentioned “jobs,” but these are heavily mechanized operations that provide only a few jobs. The (minimal) good news: people who work at these places eventually get desensitized to the odor. Neighbors, however, usually do not.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/17/2017 - 04:17 pm.

      When One of These Very Large Scale Hog Operations

      Moves into an area with other existing residents,…

      I believe it has an absolute duty to control the emissions from its operations,…

      which is absolutely possible to do, though not cheap,…

      in order not to lower the property values, or damage the health and well being of those neighbors.

      If controlling their own emission of runoff, odors, and dangerous fumes,…

      (fumes which have actually killed farmers and workers who were exposed to manure lagoons which were not adequately ventilated),…

      then these “farmers” (if we can even call them such at that level of industrial scale production) DO NOT have a viable business at that location,…

      and need to find an alternate site for their operations.

      We would require the same of any and every type of business producing noxious or dangerous effluents and odors.

      Just because they call it “farming” and are doing it on a site which their family has owned for a couple of generations or more,…

      does NOT mean they should not be held to standards which are adequate to protecting the health and well being of those close enough to be damaged.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/17/2017 - 01:44 pm.

    My post on pigs

    From the Strib comments:

    The common law of nuisance developed for a reason. It has been codified in Minnesota statutes and has functioned reasonably well.

    Even legal operations may impose excessive burdens upon neighboring properties and residents. In part, this is because some things can not be quantified. Odors are a classic example.

    Some things can be quantified but our laws do not reach all aspects of the phenomenon. Sound is a great example. Minnesota and most local regulations prohibit sounds above a certain decibel level for more than a set length of time, as measured at a property line. They do not regulate impulse noises, those that occur briefly but regularly for only an instant.

    Requiring adjacent property owners and residents to suffer the adverse effects of commercial operations is not only inequitable, it imposes the activity’s external costs on those property owners, with no corresponding benefit to the affected parties. While we are all expected to bear some such costs, those who must bear costs beyond the ordinary should be entitled to some consideration.

    Our laws can not be expected to anticipate every possible undesirable outcome of any given activity. There must be some way for those adversely affected by other property owners’ activities short of seeking legislation. Our nuisance laws provide this mechanism for us all. No commercial activity should be exempt from these laws.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/17/2017 - 05:59 pm.

    Hog Operation Smells

    With rural GOP legislators in charge at the legislature, I assume they will be looking out for the interest of the little guy, specifically the rural little guy. That what they’re all about, right?

    I would be shocked, shocked! if the GOP sided with Big Ag at the expense of rural voters who put them in office.

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