South Dakota’s County Site Analysis Program

by Meghan Thoreau

Questions and thoughts based from South Dakota Focus aired: 02/12/2015 57:22

(Note: These are questions and thoughts from Meghan about the Department of Agriculture’s promotion of their County Site Analysis Program on SDPB a little over a week ago. This should give you some sense of the program the Department is pushing on a local and state level. If this makes you mad, and it should, sign the open letter:

We must remain land stewards in our support of large scale industrial development. We must also ensure that community’s interest prevails over the individual. We do this by including greater environment overviews and impact assessments to industrial development programs.

Q: What are planning districts? They are extensions of the state. They are membership based organizations of local municipal government. Their staff provides technical services to their members in areas, like, grant writing, grant administration, project development, research, planning, policy development, all with the intent in trying to improve local units of government and at the same time trying to enhance community and state-supported economic development.

Q: What do they do? Ensure that local regulations are in line with the state’s agenda.

Q: What is the ‘County Site Analysis Program?’ The Program has been under development for the past several years and involves several key players, such as the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, First District Association of Local government, Planning and Development District III, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member and a few others. As it stands today the program is attempting to grow AG related industries through pre-qualifying sites for Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Agriculturally Related Industrial Development (ARID), such as ethanol plants, cheese plants, granaries, and agricultural manufactures alike. The current methodology and analysis applied is very landowner and CAFO-ARID-operator centric, involving the landowners of pre-qualifying sites and operators of CAFO and ARID industries, with no great effort to secure public participation in the selection of sites, nor communities’ or the environment’s interests. (The only environmental factor taken into account is the area within the protected aquifer zone.)

Paul Kostboth, Agricultural Development of Director of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA), states, the program is “all about local control,” despite the plan begin developments from the top down, not the traditional direction for local decision making. Kostboth goes on to state, “We can turn [this study] into a program that really focuses on the local control and try to devise a tool that doesn’t look for specific sites for specific purposes, but rather a much broader look at agriculture and opportunities within agriculture that we can then provide this type of service to the county if they so choose and allow them to use it strictly as a planning tool as they are trying to identify the right opportunities for them and where they would not to go with their county in the future.” That sounds great, but what does such a statement really mean? The program’s whole premise is to pre-qualify sites for CAFOs and ARIDs, making communities land use decisions for them ahead of development requests, sites that meet the counties land-use regulations, and speed up the review/approval process, all to avoid neighbors’ contention in the public hearing process.

Todd Kays, Executive Director of First Planning District of Local Governments, states, “The program was modeled after the Governor’s Office of Certified Ready Sites, for industrial parks, but doing something similar for AG development. A pilot program was started in Grant, Brookings, and Moody Counties were First District highlighted sites that would support certain types of agricultural animal development.” However, Brookings County never formally adopted the program. “Shortly thereafter the SD Department of Agriculture contacted First District in regards to their pilot program in the hopes of development a larger statewide program. In 2013 First District, SD Department of Agriculture, and Planning District Three began working together to develop a methodology that would look at both animal development and ARID. That same year another pilot study was done in Codington, Brule, Hutchinson, and Lincoln Counties. The SD Department of Agriculture was pleased with the results of the study, so that in 2014, 11 additional counties were included and are currently in year two of the program.”

Blog 1 FebPALE GOLD counties requested the study be done; DARK ORANGE = complete counties; deadline of completion 1 July 2015.

Bill Hansen, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member, stated, “The board provides opportunities to young farmers and ranchers in SD through a tax exempt bond program to beginning farmers, agribusiness, and nutrient management projects. Two years ago the value added sub-fund was put into the department of agriculture, prior to that it was in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The money is used for feasibility studies for projects; in the case of the County Site Analysis Program, $100,000 is allocated from the sub-fund to support the program. All members of the board are appointed by the Governor.”

Who conducts the analysis?

First District is the prime contractor with the state, but Planning District 3, the SECG in Sioux Falls, and the NECG in Aberdeen are also involved. The GIS technology and methodology identifies sites that comply with county zoning regulation and outside the aquifer protection zone, near supportive infrastructure (e.g. 3-phase power, roads, available water sources, rail,) and sites 40 acres or larger. Kays stated, “The planning districts themselves do not do the recruitment or the outreach.” But planning districts do have a heavy hand in drafting the local laws and regulations used in associated communities. Kays stated, “We are out there collecting the data and helping and assisting in site locations. We work with the counties to review their policies regarding land use, long range development, and that is where our role comes in.”

Kostboth stated, “We are not trying to push anything on anybody, we are not suggesting anyone should do anything. It’s merely using data to try to proactive planning and give everyone the opportunity to be involved and respecting where they stand.” The involvement is between the landowner and the industrial business, not the general public. The laws have already been developed by the assistance of planning districts to support such uses and now specific locations will pre-qualify sites for a quicker decision making process. Hansen states, “I use to be on the planning and zoning board in the county of Turner and I know we had a lot of people come to the zoning board meetings when there was a large livestock operation that was thinking about coming in and it would have been so much easier if that site would have been identified ahead of time.” In other words, the program may limit concerned citizens ability to take part in the decision making process of development in their communities.

In fact, a caller to the show from Big Stone City stated, “I happen to be next to the hog set up that they are talking about here on the TV and they said they checked with the local people, and they did not check with the local people, they checked with the landowner in particular. And the immediate folks right around the site were not informed. They lacked to tell the folks that this things was coming. And we have been fighting that for two years in Big Stone Township and this isn’t what they are saying, being such a great opportunity for communities. It’s good for the folks that are getting the pigs, it’s not good for the folks putting up with the manure.” Kostboth stated, “We are trying to establish a process that does get more people involved. “ Kostboth went on to state, “The long sustainable growth in the state has and always will come from local producers and the local farms that are continuing to grow and expand.” Will this reality remain true after the program is in full swing remains to be tested?

Missing Components. More local input is needed in an analysis described that allows the public to provide input prior to the analysis phase that pre-qualifies industrial sites in communities. Besides the aquifer zone no environmental factors were applied, no buffers or setback from waterways, sensitive environmental areas, or projected growth areas. We have to start reviewing and permitting development that is more accountable to people, places, and the environment. What a site can support and how the development impacts the surrounding area are two very different analyses.

We cannot keep ignore the impact our developments have on our people and land. It was stated over and over again by the panelist that the County Site Analysis Program has created a high bar for development to pass, but what exactly is so different in the criteria that doesn’t already exist in our communities land use regulations? Nothing new was proposed.

The sites are just pre-qualified and identified on a map. We cannot continue to ignore environmental realities that are directly related to our land use behaviors. The Big Sioux River is the 13th dirtiest river in the nation! That fact alone should stir up more regulations, but it hasn’t, we continue to permit developments under the same county regulations that created the river’s dirty ranking. Our water quality standards and reclamation practices are weak to say the least. (1)

The Big Sioux aquifer, which is at or near land surface in eastern SD, has had incidences of nitrate-nitrogen concentrations above the 10 milligrams per liter regulatory limit established for public-water supplies. Several water supplies that draw water from the Big Sioux aquifer have been impacted by nitrate contamination. These include two rural water systems and several municipalities: Brookings-Deuel Rural Water System, Sioux Rural Water System, Alcester, Aurora, Elkton, and Fairview. Some pesticides have also been detected in the Big Sioux aquifer, but nearly all have been detected at concentrations below limits set in drinking-water regulations or health advisories. Research regarding the impacts of agriculture on shallow groundwater is ongoing in South Dakota. The city of Aurora cannot even drink water from the aquifer below, the city pipes their drinking water in from the city of Brookings municipal system.(2)

More Groundwater Contamination. South Dakota is not a very populous state, but it’s not the people per se that are causing contaminates, but its industries. Between 1973 and October 28, 1993, a total of 3,327 releases of contaminants to the environment were reported to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. To put this number of releases in perspective, there were only two reported releases in 1973 and only about 30 to 40 reported releases prior to 1982. The increase in the number of reported releases is attributed to the implementation of regulations and a greater public awareness of potential environmental problems. Of the 3,327 reported releases, 1,346 are still being investigated and/or cleaned up. (2)

Human activities pose a threat to groundwater and may result in the contamination of the groundwater. Some examples of these routine activities are the application of fertilizer and pesticides to golf courses and private home lawns, the application of agricultural chemicals to cropland, the disposal of municipal solid waste in landfills, the use of septic systems where there is no centralized sewer system, and the discharge of storm-water runoff and treated sewage effluent into surface water. Other examples of common potential sources of contamination, which were identified near the Sioux Falls airport; e.g. agricultural equipment dealers, manufacturing and distribution sites, petroleum products, production, storage, and distribution centers, pipelines, quartzite quarry, etc. (2)

Another example of contamination in South Dakota is in the northern Black Hills area. Unusual levels of arsenic are found in the groundwater along Whitewood Creek. Mine tailings were discarded into Whitewood Creek for over 100 years. These tailings make up a large portion of the present day flood plain sediments. (2)

DENR Environmental Spills Interactive Map Viewer. Visit the site and explore in detail your state and its environmental spills that have been allowed to occur.

Blog 2 Feb



  1. Jay Gilbertson says:

    The information presented on ground water contamination in the Big Sioux aquifer and pollutant releases in SD, while true, is dated to say the least. What is the information about what is happening now, or over the past decade, when the large CAFOs could have been a factor? Also, it would be good to point out that in response to the ground water contamination referenced, counties up and down the Big Sioux River basin enacted measures to protect the aquifer. These ordinances have been up and functioning for over twenty years with laudable results. The implication that the counties in the basin, along with First District and other governmental entities, do not care about water resources is demonstrably incorrect, but perhaps it makes good copy. Please do your homework next time.


  1. […] written a great deal about this bill, about the Department of Agriculture’s county site analysis program, and about why HB 1201 is an open door to out-of-state, monopolistic corporate ag development. […]

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