Livestock sales barn mired in debate about animal feeding operations


Miranda Stambler and Travis Sviohvec, Bismarck Tribune (ND)

June 6, 2019


Developers of a livestock sales barn under construction in northeast Bismarck are appealing a city determination that the operation might violate local zoning rules if it has too many cattle on the premises.


The city letter sent in February says Bismarck Livestock Auction Market can operate as a sales barn as long as it limits the number of animals on site, though City Attorney Janelle Combs also has said the developers are taking a "tremendous risk."


The letter details the city's determination of how an "animal feeding operation" label might apply to a livestock sales pavilion. The parties had been in touch since January, Combs said, when the city learned that the barn might operate outside what the zoning law allows.


“We wanted to give the applicants an appeal chance for that determination prior to them starting their operations, if it made a difference in whether their business would be successful or not,” Combs said in an interview. “That’s why we issued the letter.”


The letter was sent before any structure had been built, Combs said. The building is now up but the interior is not completed. The attorney for developers Jess George and Dean Ulmer said they have invested $1.5 million in the venture so far. Construction is expected to wrap up in August. George and Ulmer then plan to hold weekly sales on Tuesdays.


A 5 p.m. hearing is set Thursday in the Tom Baker Room in the City/County Office Building. The Board of Adjustments hearing is open to the public but not to public testimony. 


The city handles permits for the site since it's located in Bismarck's extra-territorial area. City Attorney Charlie Whitman in 2015 determined the facility met the legal definition of a livestock sales pavilion, and the city approved final site plans in October 2018. Officials began looking into the question of whether the operation might classify as an animal feeding operation after a public meeting in January during which they learned the pavilion might have more cattle than previously thought. Some area residents are worried about traffic, odor, mud and drainage systems.


The attorney for Ulmer and George says the Bismarck Auction Livestock Market is being misclassified as an animal feeding operation and that the city notified his clients long after the site plan was approved and after his clients had invested money. The misclassification "severely limits my client's anticipated business operation by reducing the number of cattle it may have on site down to 299 head for less than 45 days in any given 12-month period," attorney Christopher Nyhus said in his appeal letter to the city.


The site plan includes 64 pens with a capacity of 2,500 to 3,000 head. “What in the world did the city think we were going to do out there?” Nyhus asked at an informational meeting Monday evening.


Under city ordinance, the operation could have 3,000 head of cattle for 44 days, and if they have 299 the rest of time they would be in compliance, Combs said.


"While the owners could likely be compliant for a while in their operations, if they are successful, they likely will violate their zoning and a cease-and-desist order would follow," she said in a Feb. 12 letter to lawyers for the developers...