Judge denies water sampling at Larson Acres
Tensions that have build during more than five years of court battles between the town and the county’s largest dairy farm came to the surface during the two-hour hearing before Judge James Welker.
“I think what’s happened is people have gotten their hackles up,” Welker said. “Mr. Larson takes the position, ‘Township, you want to enforce your legal rights, then by golly I will enforce my legal rights,’ and so we’re standing toe-to-toe.”
Welker suggested it would be good if everyone could get along, but town attorney Glenn Reynolds said the parties would be in court for years.
“This lawsuit may not be over for five years,” he said. “Let’s be honest about it.”
Ed Larson’s attorney, Eric McLeod, said the town’s request to take water samples violated the family’s constitutional rights.
“Mr. Larson and Larson Acres have been … stuck in the eye repeatedly and repeatedly by the town in a way he doesn’t appreciate,” McLeod said. “That’s why he’s standing up for his rights.”
The town and a group of neighbors are appealing a state livestock siting board decision, which overturned some conditions the town board had imposed on the farm as part of a conditional-use permit for the Larsons to house up to 1,500 heifers in a barn.
Welker denied Reynolds’ motion to collect water samples from the farm on County B. Welker said the town did not have probable cause to believe a violation was occurring.
“I did allow the testing on one occasion. I’m not even sure I should have done that. But I did allow it, and apparently there was nothing there which rose to the level of some kind of a violation that could be enforced,” Welker said.
“I can appreciate the thought that, ‘Well we want information because we want to share it with other people,’ but I don’t think that trumps Mr. Larson’s Fourth Amendment right,” Welker said.
Reynolds said the town wanted to test the water so it could provide information to the public. He said past tests have shown the amount of nitrates in the water around the farm violate the state’s Clean Water Act and Groundwater Protection Act.
Welker questioned Reynolds about what the town would do with the water test information. Reynolds said it would be shared with the public and state agencies because it’s in the public’s best interest to know the condition of the water.
The town board is “toothless,” Reynolds said, because the state has removed control from town government. Reynolds told Welker that if he denied the motion, the town might file a nuisance lawsuit against Larson Acres.
Town chairwoman Fern McCoy and board member Dave Olsen, who attended the hearing, said afterward they didn’t know what the town would do next.
“We’ve got to protect the water, and that’s very important,” Olsen said.
He said the town would continue testing water in the public right-of-way.
McLeod said the town presented no legitimate legal basis other than the town wanting information.
“The government doesn’t have the ability under the Fourth Amendment to ask for information because it’s interested,” he said.