Davison County OKs conditional use permit for $500M soybean plant south of Mitchell

·6 min read

Jul. 12—MITCHELL — The Davison County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to grant a conditional use permit to the South Dakota Soybean Processors for the company's planned $500 million soybean processing facility planned to be located south of Mitchell.

It ends the approval process at the county level in Mitchell and will allow SDSP to keep working to fundraise and put down equipment deposits, with a planned ground-breaking in 2023 and the plant's scheduled opening in 2025.

The commission, sitting as the county Board of Adjustment, voted 5-0 to approve the permit, with some stipulations on the plan, mainly related to the already underway traffic study in the project's corridor.

The meeting lasted nearly three hours, with a public-comment period of 90 minutes for about 75 people on hand. Unlike the Davison County Planning Commission meeting, an overwhelming majority of the public input was in favor of the project, including farmers, local business owners and ag industry leaders from around the region and state.

Davison County pork producer Brad Greenway said he believes there are 80 to 100 trucks of soybean meal being hauled into Davison County each month to feed to his pigs, traveling from Volga or Sioux City, Iowa. His own farm gets as many as three loads every month.

"Having that plant here would be a next step to bring the meal back and have those sales take place here," Greenway said.

More proponent testimony centered on the benefits it will provide to Mitchell. The project plans to add about 75 full-time jobs in the Mitchell area, paying out about $4.5 million in salaries each year.

The plant will be able to process soybeans or high oilseeds but not at the same time, with the expectation of processing 35 million bushels of soybeans annually, along with 850,000 tons of sunflowers, which will each be crushed for meal and extracted for oil. Written or spoken supportive testimony for SDSP came in from Miller, Volga, Brookings, Arlington and Lake Preston, along with farmers from around the region and state.

Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves pointed out a key workforce part of having the proposed plant in the Mitchell area, saying it will have an immense impact on the school district.

"The jobs that we're bringing to the community are critical," Graves said. "New jobs, new families, new kids, which is extremely important to the school district. They're also the types of jobs that tend to be a partner job, which can help to hire a teacher when we have an opening."

Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke said he worked with Director of Equalization Karla Love to figure a potential assessed value for the facility, which he said is frequently between 15% and 28% of the construction costs. For the SDSP plant, that would be between $75 million and $140 million and would likely bring in up to $2 million in tax revenue annually, with the Mitchell School District getting a large share of that.

Jayson Plamp, an agricultural banker at First Dakota National Bank, said his family lived near the Loomis area when the Poet plant came in 2006 when there were worries about traffic and quality of life.

"Those concerns were real," Plamp said. "The fear of change was real. There were some problems but by and large, the ethanol plant was a good neighbor and they've made changes over time. This is a good opportunity coming in."

Rex McDaniel, who lives near the proposed plant, said it's personal to him, given that he will have to walk out the front door and see the building.

"There are other places you can find for this, McDaniel said. "My family was around farms their whole life. That location is just not a good one."

Doug Johnson brought a petition to the commission meeting on Tuesday with more than 100 signatures and presented it to Bathke, asking that the county move the processing plant elsewhere in the county. It was not against a specific ruling or ordinance, which likely will limit any legal moves opponents could take against the planned facility. Bathke said he will consult with the Davison County state's attorney's office on the matter.

"This is a good thing, I know, for everyone in the soybean industry," Johnson said. "But the location, we're concerned with it. If there's a way to improve the highway, that's a lot of the concern."

Much of the concern Tuesday centered on the traffic plans. The project is slated to have about 140 trucks per day at the plant's opening and that figure more than double for when harvest takes place.

Bob Weiss, who lives south of Mitchell, said he's concerned about the safety of the highway, in part because he has granddaughters who travel on the road.

"If you could twist the arm of the state to make it four lanes, that would be a great thing," he said. "Another accident is going to happen one of these days."

Jay Peppel, the Mitchell area engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation, spoke about SDDOT's role in the traffic study. He noted that the SDDOT stays neutral in the approval process of projects like this.

He said the study will look at traffic counts and turning movements, along with analyzing the nearby railroad and crossing, the size of trucks and the length of turn lanes. He said the study — which is being paid for by SDSP — isn't done and won't be finished until late August or September.

If there are road improvements necessary for the plant, Peppel said the developer will pay for those improvements, whether it's a state or county road and SDDOT will be administering those improvements. He said the 20-year outlook for traffic counts on Highway 37 is expected to climb near 6,500 vehicles per day.

One stipulation to the conditional use permit is that Davison County will have two representatives on the SDSP traffic study, plus Prosper Township will be able to have a representative on the study as well to speak to the county and township road interests. 257th Avenue, which is the cross street the facility will be located on, is a paved road east of Highway 37, managed by the county. To the west of Highway 37, it is a Propser Township road.

The county commissioners did not exhibit much opposition to the project. Commissioner Randy Reider noted there are still unanswered questions, particularly the traffic study, along with the water agreement and who will provide power. But he said he believed the SDSP had provided the best answers they could on those issues for now, and believes the project will be good for Davison County.

"It's a really exciting opportunity for our region and the state of South Dakota," he said.