Senator Davis: Keep livestock zoning decisions local
June 10, 2016
Last year, the Legislature passed LB106, which, in its original form, would have allowed a governor-appointed board to develop a statewide matrix through which all livestock confinement operations would be evaluated. If the operation met the requirements set out by the matrix, it would be allowed to go forward, regardless of any decision by the local zoning board. The local zoning board could reject the livestock confinement operation but an appeal would go back to the matrix board which had already approved the project.
Proponents of this bill argued that it was necessary to keep Nebraska competitive in luring confined agriculture entities to the state. I saw it as an affront to local control in rural Nebraska. Local zoning boards deserve to maintain control over which projects go forward in their communities, because they understand their unique issues; I did not want to see that authority ceded to a one-size-fits-all standard.
I fought against the bill on the floor and, along with a coalition of rural senators, succeeded in amending the bill, removing the language that gave such power to this unelected board. Instead, the bill's final form simply called for the creation of a matrix that counties may choose to use in their decision-making process, but are not required to use.
On June 6th, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture released the first draft of these new guidelines. The standard, formally called the Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix, is intended to be used as "a science-based tool to balance farm growth with protecting neighbors and natural resources," according to an article by Nicholas Bergin in the Lincoln Journal Star. Factors that play into the matrix include the size of the project, environmental protection, proximity to houses and other public places, water quality protection, economic impact, and more.
Though I appreciate the scientific and thorough approach taken by the Department of Agriculture in creating this standard, I am glad that LB106 did not manage to put a mandate on local zoning boards. Earlier this year, the village board in Nickerson rejected a request by Costco Wholesale Corporation to implement a large chicken processing facility near their community. They were able to hear the outcry of opposition from local residents and act accordingly. Now, the company is seeking a location south of Fremont. I am confident that the local board in Fremont will look at this project, listen to the concerns of the people, and make a sound decision, regardless of whether they use the matrix or not.
To view the matrix, you can visit nda.nebraska.gov, click on "Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix" near the bottom of the page, and then find the actual matrix near the top right corner. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or sent by mail to Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Attn. Steve Roth, 301 Centennial Mall South, Fourth Floor, Lincoln, NE 68509. I hope that you will make your voices heard on this issue.