State lawmakers spar over state control of feedlot permits

By ANNA GRONEWOLD

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers sparred Tuesday over a measure that would create statewide standards for livestock producers in obtaining permits to build or expand large operations.

Advocates said the bill would encourage growth in Nebraska’s top industry by simplifying the permit process and making Nebraska an accessible state for producers. But opponents say a “state-down” approach discredits county boards’ knowledge of local community needs.

Under current law, each county has the power to set its own standards for feedlot permitting. The bill by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier sparked fierce backlash from county zoning administrators. In addition to mandating the statewide standards, it would create a state-level board that could hear appeals of county-level decisions.

Opponent Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said the bill is a step toward eliminating local control.

“If you have even the faintest belief in local control, this bill needs to die a sudden, non-natural death,” Bloomfield said.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids said that she wants agriculture to flourish but that the concept of statewide oversight in county decisions makes her wary.

“I do think it is a fundamental philosophical change in how we look at zoning and planning in the state. I want us to be livestock friendly, but there is a balance to be met,” Sullivan said.

The bill divided senators who represent rural districts. Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala supported the measure, saying he believes the state’s success lies in initiatives to encourage larger livestock development. Large-scale producers need clear standards to know how to build their facilities rather than playing a guessing game county by county, he said.

“It’s what gives people the certainty to know how they should move forward,” Schilz said.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said although he originally opposed the bill, he worked with Watermeier to allow for mediation between producers and counties before a state board would step in.

Watermeier called the statewide standards a tool for counties, not a mandate, and urged senators to consider a pending amendment by Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis that would make the standards optional, even though it would “significantly gut” his bill.

The legislature took no action on the bill but is expected to vote Wednesday.

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