Proposer of Massive Factory Hog Farm Files 11th-hour Lawsuit Seeking to Prevent Township's Consideration of a Moratorium

NEWBURG TOWNSHIP, Minn. — In a highly unusual move, one of the partners of a proposed massive hog operation has filed a lawsuit in southeastern Minnesota’s Fillmore County asking the District Court to impose a restraining order preventing Newburg Township officials from meeting to adopt a one-year moratorium on new large-scale feedlots and other developments. Attorney Jack Perry of the Minneapolis-based firm Briggs and Morgan filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of Alvin and Merilee Hein. To view a copy of the lawsuit filing, click here.

“Trying to stop a meeting of publicly-elected officials is outrageous. Through law, our township has the right to meet to decide the future of our community and we should be able to exercise that right,” said Newburg Township resident, farmer and business owner Mark Spande. “It shows they just don’t care about democracy or our community.”

Catalpa, LLC is proposing a 4,980-head factory hog farm in Fillmore County’s Newburg Township. At a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) public meeting on June 19, a representative of Catalpa, LLC indicated that the operation would be managed by Waukon Feed Ranch of Iowa, which manages 24,000 sows in three states, and that the hogs would be owned by Holden Farms of Northfield, Minn., which, according to Successful Farming magazine, was the country’s 17th largest pork producer in 2017 with 60,000 sows. The Heins, which are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, own the land where it is proposed the operation be built.

The controversial proposed swine farrowing facility would generate 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure annually and use 8.8 million gallons of the area’s groundwater per year (220 million gallons of groundwater over 25 years). In addition, it is proposed to be built in Minnesota’s vulnerable karst region, which is composed of porous limestone that creates sinkholes and disappearing springs. This geology can allow surface pollution to enter the groundwater in a matter of hours. As a result, this part of the state has long had problems with groundwater pollution.

Newburg Township will hold a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 2, and township officers have proposed discussing the adoption of a moratorium on any new massive feedlots proposed within the township. A moratorium would allow the township to maintain the status quo while it determines if it wants to adopt township level zoning protections. Currently, the township has no zoning ordinance. The purpose of a moratorium is to preserve the status quo while zoning changes are being considered. It was the massive size and potential effects of the proposed swine operation on health, air quality, groundwater, wells, local businesses and trout streams which caused many township residents to call for the consideration of adopting township protections and establishing local controls.

“Our township officers are taking appropriate steps to protect our community by using democratic local control,” said Newburg Township resident and business owner Barton Seebach. “They are prioritizing our community’s future over the pocketbooks of outside corporate interests. It’s those corporations that are going to own and operate this huge facility and others like it, for example, and, we expect, the many new finishing barns that receive the 150,000 or so piglets this facility may produce every year.”