Livestock siting permit procedures amended, advanced

The state Department of Agriculture would create a set of guidelines for county officials to use when considering livestock operation proposals under a bill advanced by senators April 1.

Introduced by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier, LB106 would require the state Department of Agriculture and a committee of experts appointed by the department director to create an assessment formula that county officials may use when considering livestock operation siting permits.

Criteria used in the formula could include size and type of the operation, proximity to neighboring residences and public use areas, manure storage, public support of the project and odor control practices.

Provisions originally contained in the bill ultimately were removed by a later amendment brought by Watermeier and adopted 39-0. These would have created a seven-member Livestock Siting Review Board appointed by the governor to review permit applications denied by the county. The removed provisions would have made following the guidelines mandatory and called for the department to review them every four years.

Watermeier said that in the last 20 years, Nebraska’s livestock industry has grown at a lower rate compared to neighboring states. The bill would stimulate growth by removing barriers in the county zoning process such as uncertainty by livestock producers about conditions required for expansion, he said.

Creating a uniform set of livestock operation siting guidelines, he added, would simplify the permit process for county officials and help businesses plan their projects.

“This bill gives local officials another tool to use when making those decisions,” Watermeier said.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte supported the bill, saying statewide siting standards would provide county zoning officials with expert guidance, especially in situations where livestock operations are near cities.

“As urban [properties] abut up against agriculture, we need something in place,” Groene said.

Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan said she opposed the bill because it could remove local control from the citizens who are most affected by county zoning decisions. Many counties already have determined which zoning guidelines work best for them, she said.

“Those zoning boards are made of people who live and breathe in those counties,” Sullivan said.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers also opposed the bill, saying it would give the director of the agriculture department, who is appointed by the governor, too much power over issues that should be decided by county government.

“A change of this magnitude should not be left in the hands of an agency,” Chambers said.

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield introduced a motion to recommit the bill to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

“I think a lot of work needs to be done on this bill yet,” he said. “Nebraska has done quite well under our current rules.”

Bloomfield withdrew his recommit motion upon Watermeier’s introduction of the new amendment that removed the proposed siting review board and clarified that following the guidelines would be optional. Watermeier asked senators to reject the pending committee amendment so that the new version could be considered instead. The body obliged on a 0-37 vote.

Senators advanced the bill from general file on a 34-3 vote.

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