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Always thinking the worst

The Madison County Attorney’s Office was a busy place last month a few days before a meeting of the county’s board of commissioners. More than a few rural Norfolkans stopped in or called, wanting to argue that one of the commissioners should declare a conflict of interest and not participate in an upcoming vote on a proposed feedlot expansion.

Then, on the day of commissioners’ meeting, a large group — some with homes south of Norfolk near the feedlot — turned out for the public hearing to express their objections to the proposed expansion.

One person brought up an incident in 2010 in which a charge was assessed against the feedlot owner by the state. The same person also brought up a citation in 2012 for discharging lagoon water. The implication was that the feedlot owner was trying to hide such information.

 Before we proceed any further, let’s be clear that citizens have every right to raise concerns, ask questions and object to any issues that require governmental approval.

What we have a problem with is that at least some of those who object often are quick to see a conspiracy when one doesn’t exist, or grasp at any related piece of information and immediately frame it in the worst possible light.

The county commissioner in question is related to the owner of the feedlot, but they don’t have any shared financial or economic interest. Given that, there was no valid reason for him to not participate in the discussion or vote on the proposal.

In regard to the 2010 and 2012 incidents, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality only considers the past five years as pertinent. So it wasn’t a case of the feedlot owner trying to hide anything; there was no reason to bring it up.

Ultimately, the commissioners unanimously approved the expansion. It will result in a boost to the area ag economy. But a larger operation also likely means greater scrutiny for the owner in adhering to county and state environmental guidelines.

We were impressed with the testimony of Jessica Herrmann of Lincoln, an attorney with Nebraska Cattlemen, who cited numerous university research studies that addressed concerns raised by opponents. “This expansion is a win for Madison County with minimal risk to local homeowners who have chosen to build in land zoned for intensive agriculture,” she said.

And the bottom line is that the expansion far exceeded the point total needed in Madison County’s livestock matrix, which is the objective way to measure whether feedlots are a good fit in areas.

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