- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2020

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is pushing a streamlined permitting process for feedlots, other agriculture projects and energy development.

The Republican governor announced a bill Friday that would establish statewide protocols for county zoning permits. Speaking at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, she said it would bring “consistency and predictability” to how counties grant permits. Feedlots have sparked controversy in communities across the state as the number has grown in recent years.

Feedlots, or concentrated animal feeding operations, can hold thousands of animals in a small area.

Opponents complain about environmental and odor problems, while supporters argue they bring financial opportunities to rural communities. Noem has supported feedlot operations in the past.

The bill also applies to permits for wind farms, infrastructure and other agriculture projects.

The proposal would clarify that counties can establish a “special permitted use” process that would allow them to grant zoning permits based on a checklist of requirements without holding public meetings.

It would also make it more difficult for people to appeal permits once they’re granted. Noem said her proposal would give people two weeks to appeal the approval of a feedlot and require counties to make a decision on appeals within 60 days.

The governor said it will prevent “frivolous lawsuits and people who want to jam up the process” from delaying the project indefinitely. It would also only allow people who are “legitimately aggrieved” to file an appeal, require a two-thirds vote from county boards to reverse a permit decision, and make people who sue counties over the decision liable for attorney’s fees and damages.

The predictability of permitting will encourage investors, Noem said. She cast the proposal as a part of her wider efforts to encourage business in the state.

Several agriculture groups supported the bill, including the South Dakota Farm Bureau and the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.

“While the appeal process is important and legal, it is often used as a delay tactic to stop projects,” said Craig Anderson, president of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council.

But not all farmers are excited.

Frank James, the director of Dakota Rural Action, which is a conservation group made of farmers and ranchers, said he’s concerned the bill would stop people’s ability to “participate in the democratic process.”

Candice Lockner, a rancher from Ree Heights, argued the bill erodes local control and would allow out-of-state industrial agriculture operations into communities. She said that feedlots create a “toxic” environment.

“I think if our leaders truly understood the consequences of industrial agriculture to our rural communities, they would have to rethink their current priorities,” Lockner said.

Noem said the bill will soon be filed in the Legislature.

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