The partners in the Blackshirt Feeders proposed 150,000 head livestock feedlot for western Dundy County had to feel pretty good after the Dundy County Commissioners Special Meeting and Public Hearing on Thursday afternoon. The County Commissioners voted 3 to 0 and approved the new Conditional Use Permit application from Blackshirt Feeders for the new site and support for the new site is much stronger, especially with nearby land owners and producers.
Monday’s meeting lasted for just over two and a half hours and included a presentation by Dean Settje of Settje Agri-Services and Engineering Inc., the company hired by Blackshirt Feeders to design and build the new facility, questions from the board, comments and questions from the public, and then time for Blackshirt Feeders to answer the questions. The large majority of comments about the proposed feedlot were positive.
Rex and Jody Buck, with their family, operate the Wray Cattle Company, a fifth generation ranch that will neighbor the Blackshirt Feeders Feedlot. Rex and Jody live a little over 2.5 miles south of the proposed feedlot, outside the Dundy County Zoning setback requirements. Jody Buck said that Dr. Eric Behlke and Blackshirt Feeders have been great to work with. “They have treated us very well and have answered our questions and are very responsive. This could change us negatively or it could impact us positively. We don’t know, but they couldn’t have been better to work with,” she said. “We are still neutral, because it is going to change our lifestyle, we are concerned about that, but at the same time we are very excited, because I feel like the technologies they are bringing to the community, the attitude presented, and they just seem like wonderful people. The testimony is very positive and our first impression has been nothing but good.” “We are neutral, but we are positive,” Rex Buck said to the Dundy County Commissioners. He had questions/concerns with the project that included water monitoring wells and power lines, “I know you are working on it and I know you are working with two or three different boards.” Brady Buck, Rex and Jody’s son, spoke in support of the feedlot. He said he has heard a lot of feedback from Wray community members and they have all been supportive. “They are all very excited about this once in a lifetime economic opportunity for the area,” he said. “I am pretty active in the local community in Wray and it is good to see some energy for something like this and a rare opportunity like this doesn’t come along very often. I think as long as Blackshirt can be good neighbors, I think the pros definitely out weigh the cons.”
Brad Dixon, a neighbor to the first site in northern Dundy County who spoke at every public hearing in opposition to the first site, also spoke in opposition to the second site on Monday. “This is still too big of a project people, 150,000 head of cattle in one spot, with disease or whatever, will destroy this beautiful families operation,” he said. “You just have to go drive next to some of these other 100,000 head feedlots and see what happens. I just don’t understand the mentality.”
Karan Harford, who lives about 15 miles north of the proposed site, said she is concerned about the light pollution from that large a feedlot, and odor from the facility even with the use of a methane digester, how much water the facility will use and is so close to Colorado, and how it will help Dundy County.
During the question and answer session, Dean Settje first talked about water use. He explained that Blackshirt Feeders will purchase and retire the water allocation from 13 irrigation wells 12 miles to the east of the facility. They are proposing to build a well field about five miles to the north of the feedlot and water use from that well field will offset the amount used by those 13 irrigation pivots. “We have to retire that water, before we can use that water, the net use is exactly zero,” he said. That plan will have to be approved by the Upper Republican Natural Resources District. Blackshirt Feeders has presented that information to the URNRD and they are conducting a water study to determine how the feed lots water use proposal will impact the aquifer in that region.
As far as roads are concerned with the new facility, all of the roads in and around the facility are private. “All the roads around this facility will be maintained by Blackshirt Feeders or Larsen Farms,” Settje explained. “There will be no requirements for the county to put money toward the roads for the property.” The main road, going in and out of the facility to the west will be hard topped. He said they are working with Yuma County in regards to the roads on that side of the state line.
Settje then said he wanted to respond the Rex Bucks questions about ground water monitoring. “There is no question that NDEE (Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy) will require groundwater monitoring on this site,” he said. “We can’t make that determination , but we have done hundreds and hundreds of these and they will most likely require ground water monitoring.”
Rex Buck asked one more question. “Can the technology overcome our fears?” Settje told Buck, “Yes, it can.” “We are pro-development. For God sakes. rural communities are dying. We have to do something,” said Rex. “I always tell my children, look for the unfair advantage. What are you the best at? Maybe we are the best at cattle feeding in the world. But, it is a big project and there are some fears.” “I fully appreciate that,” that Settje. “What I can tell you is that of all the facilities we have been around, this facility is going to be so far above and beyond any other facility that has been built, in environmental protection, that it is going to make the others look foolish. The concern that the competitors have, quite frankly, is that. That gives me assurance that what we are doing here is pretty unique and is pretty special.”
The facility, which will be built in three phases of 50,000-head capacity each, is projected to provide, when at full capacity, 127 new jobs. The project is estimated to cost $200 million to build, $100-million for the feedlot and $100 million for the methane digester.
Property taxes generated by the facility will all go to Dundy County entities, including the Dundy County Stratton School District. Scott Olson, Dundy County Commissioner, said at the meeting Monday, the county plans to hire on outside expert to make sure that facility’s valuation is right. He said they hope it generates quadruple the estimated property tax of the first facility.
To put the property tax valuation of the facility into perspective, the total property valuation of the Dundy County Stratton District for the 2021/2022 school year budget was just over $956-million. There is a liklihood that this new facility would have a valuation of at least $100-million on its own. That could spread the tax base out in the DCS School District by over ten percent, meaning that landowners in the district could see a reduction in their property taxes by that ten percent when the facility is at capacity. That is coupled with the added premium that area farmers would get for the 15-million bushels of corn needed to feed the 150,000 head of cattle. The positive economic impact of the facility is huge for the area.
The county’s approval of the CUP came with nine conditions concerning groundwater testing, control of flies and dust, proper disposal of dead livestock, and Blackshirt Feeders withdrawing the first CUP once construction starts on the second CUP. The facility still needs to gain permission from the local natural resources district and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy before construction.