Dairies spark controversy in Moody County


Miranda Malo And Denise Watt

America has been considered the land of opportunity for centuries, but along with that opportunity comes the right to voice your opinion.

Some Moody and Brookings county residents are doing just that.

This summer has seen the arrival of new European-owned dairies followed by controversy.

“Brookings County has some of the best zoning laws in the state. We’re very desirable (for dairy production) because we have those zoning laws,” said Mary Kidwiler, Brookings county resident and zoning board member.

The new dairies are expected to widen the tax base and create new jobs, said Kidwiler.

James Ailsby used to own a 50-cow dairy near Manchester, England. He and his girlfriend, Julie Scanlon, also his business partner, decided to relocate to South Dakota after first visiting in late 2002.

“We have a lot of government regulations in Europe. We wanted to move to a country where the markets are more free,” he said, noting that health problems such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalophy (BSE) and Foot and Mouth disease have become a concern in his native country.

The other dairy is owned by the Rex Nederend Family Trust.

Ailsby first considered starting a dairy in the United States after attending a nation-wide dairy exposition in England.

“There was a delegation from South Dakota (that attended the expo) that said this is a good area for dairy. Because we were wanted here, we came here,” said Ailsby, who considered other states and countries before choosing Moody County.

After obtaining the necessary permits through the Moody County Board of Adjustment, construction began on Britannia Dairy in May.

The board’s decision sparked mixed reactions among Moody County citizens. About 250 residents signed a petition calling for a vote on the permits.

“We as individuals in this state have the right to question what our county government does,” said Catherine Hoss, former Flandreau resident and staff director of Dakota Rural Action in Brookings.

Permit decisions in Brookings and Moody counties are made by county zoning boards and can’t go to a vote by the people. If a decision is made by the county commissioners, it then becomes legislative.

“The state law says that if it’s a legislative decision in a county then it can be voted on by the people,” said James Abourezk, an appeals lawyer who has handled similar cases in two South Dakota counties. In both cases, the Supreme Court favored the right to vote.

“In their decisions, the Supreme Court calls it a ‘sacred right.’ Even pro-dairy people are for the right to vote,” he said.

“If they don’t like the rules, they should try to change the rules, not take individual farmers to court,” said Ailsby, who hired engineers to help apply for the permits. He will begin production with 450 to 500 cows this fall.

“I’m doing this as a concerned citizen,” said John Bechen, a Flandreau resident who attended the April 6 meeting where the permits were approved.

Only three minutes were allowed for questions following the presentations, according to Bechen. He said that while the “engineers presented a very good study… when asked ‘what is the second line of protection,’ there wasn’t any.”

Bechen said his involvement in the appeal stemmed from information he discovered as assistant director of natural resources for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

Last spring, a fish kill in the Big Sioux River revealed that pollution didn’t come from any one source, but from several sources, including agricultural runoff, according to Bechen.

Ailsbury offers a different outlook.

“From an ag perspective it’s a win-win situation,” said Ailsbury, who noted that in addition to purchasing local grain he will need legumes, like hay and alfalfa. This holds the possibility of changing the current corn-soybean cropping ration that many area farmers follow. By adding legumes it could reduce soil erosion.

At the county level, the petitioners’ request for a referendum vote was denied. It went to a Moody County circuit court judge who sided with the commissioners.

The case is moving on to the Supreme Court within the next couple of months.

“It’s been a concern. There’s a possibility … that we’d be building a dairy that we couldn’t be allowed to use,” Ailsby said.

#1.886041:1376781534.jpg:farmer.jpg:James Ailsby stands in his partially-built dairy barn in Moody County. Area residents are upset that Ailsby was able to obtain a permit to build the dairy.: