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High court set to hear Larson Acres case

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GINA R. HEINE
February 10, 2011
— The state Supreme Court wants to hear the case over a permit for Larson Acres dairy farm, but the town of Magnolia chairwoman said she doesn't want the town to pay to continue the case.

The court Tuesday granted the review filed by the Magnolia Town Board and neighbors of the farm. Chairwoman Fern McCoy told the Gazette on Wednesday she doesn't want to spend any more town money on the case.


In July, the town board voted to pay attorney Glenn Reynolds $2,000 to file the petition to the Supreme Court challenging the court of appeals' June decision on Larson Acres' conditional-use permit.


The town's decision, McCoy pointed out Wednesday, came only after board member Dave Olsen said he was willing to donate $10,000 and find other residents willing to pay legal fees if the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.


"Otherwise, I don't think the town of Magnolia should fight it anymore (or) spend any more money on it," McCoy said Wednesday. "If they can raise the money, OK. Otherwise, I don't think the town should spend any more money."


McCoy, board member Kurt Bartlett and clerk/treasurer Graceann Toberman said they didn't know if Olsen had raised any money.


Olsen could not be reached for comment.


Bartlett said he's undecided about how to proceed.


"I think if the Supreme Court thinks that it's important enough for them to hear, then it's important enough for us to pursue, but that has to be discussed yet," he said.


McCoy and Bartlett said they will talk to Reynolds before deciding what to do next.


The court's order states the town has 30 days to file its brief.


The court has no timeline for the case, aside from deadlines for filing briefs stated in the order. The court takes the time it needs to gather information before scheduling oral arguments, said Tom Sheehan, spokesman for the court.


Supreme Court cases are almost always argued orally, he said. When the court takes a case early in the year, it is usually resolved by mid-summer, he said.


The town's July decision to seek Supreme Court review came after an intense discussion about town finances. McCoy and Bartlett argued that the town didn't have the money to pursue the case if the Supreme Court agreed to hear it. Olsen's motion to continue the case died for a lack of a second, prompting him to make an emotional plea to other board members.


He told Bartlett and McCoy that the town could raise the money, possibly from special interest groups, to help pay the possible $30,000 bill if the court took the case. Olsen offered to contribute $10,000 of his own money.


Bartlett agreed to move ahead, but only if Olsen would commit to contributing or raising at least $10,000 and putting it in a new bank account by the time the court decided whether it would hear the case.


No town account was set up, Toberman said. Bartlett said he did not recall a bank account being part of the discussion.


The town has some money in reserves to spend on the case, Bartlett said. Toberman declined to comment on the available money, saying that decision was up to the board.


The town of Magnolia had spent about $150,000 in eight years of battle through April 2010 over conditional-use permits for Larson Acres, according to town invoices obtained by the Gazette through an open records request.


CASE HISTORY

The dispute started in 2002 when Larson Acres applied for a conditional-use permit for a heifer facility at its County B farm in Magnolia Township. The dairy farm is the largest in Rock County.


Conditions the town imposed on the permit in March 2007 pushed the farm to appeal the town's decision to the state livestock siting board, which ordered the permit be reissued with fewer conditions. The farm said the town was trying to micromanage the farm, while the town said it was trying to protect the town's groundwater. The town and a group of neighbors appealed the livestock siting board's decision in Rock County Court, where Judge James Welker vacated the board's decision.


Larson Acres and the livestock siting review board appealed, and the court of appeals released its 26-page decision June 24 after hearing oral arguments in February 2010.


The appeals court decision said the livestock siting board acted within its powers when it reversed some of the conditions the town had placed on the permit.



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