A drawn-out court battle over the proposed expansion of a large dairy farm in southeast Minnesota came to a head this week as an opponent to the move was required to hand over documents that the farmers' lawyers hope will prove bias against their client.

Daley Farms of Lewiston, 30 miles east of Rochester, wants to triple its herd of 1,500 cows, but the 160-year-old family farm has run into stiff opposition.

The Daleys need a variance from a county zoning ordinance that caps feedlots at 1,500 animal units, which the Daleys already exceed because they were grandfathered in.

The farm sits on bedrock that's cracked and water soluble and therefore potentially extra environmentally sensitive. The Winona County Board of Adjustment denied the request for a variance in 2019.

The five board members included three people who belonged to the Land Stewardship Project, one of the parties opposing the Daleys' expansion, and wrote letters to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency opposing the Daley expansion.

The Land Stewardship Project is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that generally opposes large-scale farming and seeks to keep more farmers on the land.

The Daleys and their lawyers have sought to overturn the board of adjustment's denial.

In May, they subpoenaed the Land Stewardship Project for any of its agendas, minutes or other communication that describes the group's meetings related to the Daley expansion, since Board of Adjustment members Cherie Hales, Wendy Larson and Rachel Stoll were all members of the nonprofit at the time they denied the Daley variance request.

Lawyers for both sides declined to comment, but in court filings they haggled throughout the summer.

The Daleys' lawyer argued the record shows that staffers with the Land Stewardship Project actively recruited group members to apply for positions on the Board of Adjustment, and that Hales and Stoll were "actively engaged in Land Stewardship Project's efforts to oppose Daley Farm's modernization and expansion project."

A lawyer for the Land Stewardship Project wrote that "there is nothing sinister or unlawful about LSP building these relationships. Private citizens can become members, and some citizens become so passionate they decide to become more involved in local government."

In September, Judge Kevin Mark ordered the Land Stewardship Project to produce the requested documents. The due date was Tuesday.

A summary judgment hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 21.

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