A Ramsey County judge ruled against Minnesota’s largest agriculture groups Wednesday and allowed state regulators to extend a standard 30-day comment period so the public has more opportunity to weigh in on the expansion of a dairy megafarm in Winona County.
Ruling from the bench, District Court Judge Jennifer Frisch also allowed a St. Paul-based public interest law firm to intervene in the lawsuit and side with the state.
However, while she denied the agricultural groups’ request to immediately end the public comment period, Frisch did not rule on the critical underlying question in the case — whether the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has the authority to extend public commenting beyond the 30 days outlined in state law.
Matthew Berger, the attorney representing the agricultural groups and Daley Farms, said his clients haven’t decided whether to move forward with the lawsuit.
At issue is the expansion of what is already Winona County’s largest dairy operation, Daley Farms of Lewiston, from 1,728 cows to 4,680. The pollution control agency granted an extension to the comment period, which started Oct. 1, at the request of local residents and small-farm advocates, who said neighbors haven’t had enough time to study the complicated expansion and its ramifications for drinking water and other local quality-of-life factors.
Last week the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation and five livestock groups sued the MPCA and asked for an immediate halt to the extension. At Wednesday’s court hearing, the MPCA and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, a nonprofit law firm, argued that state law does give the agency authority to extend public-comment periods and that it has done so in the past.