Ripley Dairy Proposal is Put on Hold

Financial burden of continued litigation is too much for dairy farmers Bill Rowekamp and Ben Zaitz to shoulder.

Published on: Nov 2, 2005

Dairy farmers, Bill Rowekamp and Ben Zaitz announced Tuesday their decision to put the Ripley Dairy project on hold for the foreseeable future. After careful consideration of all the facts, the partners said it is with much regret that they make this decision. 

"We have poured our passion for the dairy industry into the proposed dairy for over three years," says Bill Rowekamp. "For economic reasons only, we have come to the conclusion that we can no longer pursue our dream for Ripley Dairy at this time. The financial burden of continued litigation is too much for our farm businesses and families to shoulder."

Over three years ago, Rowekamp and Zaitz embarked on a partnership to build and operate a state-of the art dairy facility to house 2,140 dairy cows on farmland owned by Zaitz in Dodge County. The partners believed that Minnesota would be a favorable place to do business in light of the state's history as a dairy state, the suitability of the land base, the economic value that the owners believed would contribute to the area, and on the fact that Minnesota's dairy processing industry is in need of an increasing fluid milk supply for long-term viability of its infrastructure.

The partners followed and went beyond all the rules and regulations for building Ripley Dairy. They acquired all necessary permits from the county and state. All permitting boards voted unanimously in favor of the project. The community was engaged in the project through a Dairy Review Board appointed by the township supervisors. This board conducted an exhaustive review of the dairy and developed a list of conditions, which were agreed to be included in the building design. Following this review, the Ripley Township supervisors approved the project.

"Despite our best efforts, an outside activist group and their staff have used Ripley township citizens' prejudices, jealousies and fears of the unknown to turn otherwise intelligent, caring people against this dairy and us," explains Ben Zaitz. "It is clear that the Interim Ordinance by Ripley Township Supervisors was enacted with only one purpose in mind, that being to prevent the construction and operation of the dairy. We challenged that ordinance and won. It is now being appealed. The Minnesota Township Insurance Trust is paying the Town Board's legal bills at no charge and with no apparent consequences as to what we believe to be legally inappropriate actions of the board."

To date, the owners of Ripley Dairy have spent more than $250,000 with respect to engineering, environmental review and other costs associated with obtaining the appropriate and necessary permits for construction of the dairy. In addition, the partners have incurred legal expenses of $135,000.

"The way the system of appeals is set up it could take years to get final permission on this dairy and further personal and legal expense," adds Zaitz. "Since the township has an apparent unlimited source of funding for legal matters, we believe the time has come to look for economic opportunities for dairy elsewhere, outside of Minnesota."

"We appreciate the expressions of support that many have given to us and to this dairy. We know it was a dream shared by many," explains Rowekamp. "We will continue to challenge elected officials and business owners to make the changes necessary to help dairy farmers improve their businesses in Minnesota while protecting everyone's rights and the environment."

Since 2002, when development of the Ripley Dairy project began, Minnesotahas lost about 1,000 dairy farmers.

The Ripley Dairy would have supplied renewal energy for over 400 homes as well as organic fertilizer. "In this day and age of energy shortages and environmental concerns how could a renewable and sustainable project like this get defeated? The township's supervisors and special interest groups need to explain exactly who the winner here is," Zaitz says. "It is certainly no one in agriculture. This is a clear message to family farmers that they can not be successful or grow to sustain their families in Ripley Township."