New hearing for 160-year old dairy farm after court found county panel biased

The owners of Daley Farm never had a fighting chance of getting a fair hearing before the Winona County Board of Adjustment nearly three years ago. It turns out three of the board’s five members were also members of the Land Stewardship Project, an environmental group opposed to the Daleys’ proposed expansion of their sixth-generation dairy operation.

But as the Star Tribune noted at the time, a judge found the county board ‘s decision to turn down the expansion was hopelessly biased, sending both parties back to the drawing board.

A Winona County board acted with bias in denying a dairy farm’s request to expand, a state judge ruled, renewing the prospect for a family to make its 160-year-old business last for another generation.

District Judge Kevin Mark, in a summary judgment delivered from the bench during a hearing via Zoom on Monday, found that documents showed the Winona County Board of Adjustment prejudged a request by Daley Farms of Lewiston to increase its herd size from 1,500 to 4,500 cows.

The Daley Farm’s proposal finally goes before the adjustment board again this week. But the family continues to express concern over getting a fair shake, according to the Post Bulletin.

While the membership of the BOA has changed, there is still one member who spoke out against the project on multiple occasions. BOA chairman Robert Redig testified at public hearings against the Daley’s project.

Ben Daley, one of the owners of Daley Farm, said Redig should recuse himself from discussing and voting on the waiver request.

“He’s spoken out against our farm,” Daley said.

What’s striking is the strong backing the Daleys enjoy from local governments across the southeastern Minnesota county. The main opposition appears to come from county officials.

Meanwhile, the project has wide support across the county. With the exception of the city of Winona, every township board and city council voted to send letters of support for the Daley Farm project proposal.

“It seems really strange that the so few people who are against this project are in all the right places – the Board of Adjustments, the Planning Commission, the county commissioners – that make it really difficult,” Daley said.

The county attorney’s office has suggested the board chair step away from participating this time around.

Assistant Winona County Attorney Stephanie Nuttall said the BOA members will again be reminded of their duty to recuse themselves if they hold a bias and have prejudged the case.

For example, she said while each BOA member will make his or her own decision on recusal, she expects that Redig will step aside for the meeting on Dec. 2.

Yet if the chair recuses himself from the proceedings, Daley says it’s critical that another individual be named to temporarily take his place. Otherwise the hearing could end in a 2-2 vote that would effectively end the Daleys’ attempt to provide for future generations of the family farm.