YANKTON COUNTY, S.D. — Residents in four South Dakota townships could make history if they’re successful in seceding from Yankton County.

The action is being led by farmers who say the Yankton County Commission is no longer allowing them the freedom to operate because of county agricultural zoning rules. Irene farmer Simon Healy helped organize a meeting Jan. 4 in Irene with more than 150 people in attendance to discuss the options.

“The commission that we have now has gone above and beyond to make it hard for livestock in our community and making the conditional use permits for ... one chicken. For one animal unit, you had to get state certified every year,” he says.

Previously, Healy says, the county followed the state rules for granting a conditional use permit for livestock, and operations were permitted and inspected at 1000 animal units and above.

The residents of Mayfield, Turkey Valley, Marindahl and Walshtown townships are in the northern edge of the county. They were originally talking about merging the townships with Turner County, but they now have a second option, which is forming their own county. It is possible that the new county could merge with Turner or another county in the future.

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At the meeting, Sioux Falls attorney Brian Donahoe detailed those options under South Dakota codified law. Donahoe explained that to bring either action to a vote in the November election, it requires signatures from 15% of the residents in the townships, plus the county or counties.

“For the option of merging with Turner County it requires 15% of the registered voters of Yankton County and 15% of the registered voters of Turner County,” he says. It is done by a petition that is presented to the county commissioners in each county, and they set a vote, which would likely coincide with the November general election.

“Each county and a majority of the people who live in the township seeking to merge with Turner County have to approve that by a simple majority,” he says.

To bring a vote on making a separate county, Donahoe says it would only require 15% of the township members sign a petition. It would then go to a vote of the entire county and a majority is still needed for approval.

“And it’s a majority in each area. So, a majority of people who live in the potential new county and a majority of the people who live in the greater of Yankton County,” he says.

“That may be a little easier road to go because we don’t have to have Turner County’s approval right now, we just have to focus on Yankton. Plus, the signing of the petition would be a heck of a lot easier with only 15% of the four townships having to sign off versus 15% of the whole county,” he says.

However, Healy admits getting a majority of Yankton County voters to pass their petition will be a tough lift. He says they’ll be holding organizational meetings in the coming days to determine which option they are taking and start circulating petitions.

If the townships merge with Turner County, Donahoe says they would be subject to that county’s livestock zoning ordinance. However, if they create a new county, they could write their own rules or not have any county zoning ordinances. In the latter case, they would still fall under state general permit. Donahoe says once the new county was organized, it would also have to form its own government and pick a county seat.

Dan Klimisch is chairman of the Yankton County Commission and says he was taken back by the announcement.

“It was surprising because none of the leaders have come in and voiced any concern whatsoever. Their reasons are based on inaccuracies. I think if they would have come and spoke with us first, we could have ironed a lot of this out,” he says.

According to Klimisch, the commission did not make any changes in the county livestock zoning rules, which were put in place in 2006 detailing the conditional use permit process. It covers not just livestock, but any business.

“Not one part of our zoning has been changed. It’s the same thing we’ve had for the last 14 years,” he says.

Klimisch also says they’re not changing the way the rules are being enforced, including the Class F division for from one to 299 animal units. He says the idea that they would require a conditional use permit for one chicken is false.

“I feel that we are living up to the intent of the zoning ordinance,” he says. In fact, he says he thinks the past commission failed to be consistent with the Class F permitting requirements because they required a conditional use permit for some projects but building permits for others.

“Really what we brought was even dealing with everybody at having a conditional use process, that way the applicants and the neighbors and surrounding people know what’s going on,” Klimisch says.

The Yankton County Commission has been called anti-livestock, which Klimisch refutes. He says he’s a fifth-generation farmer, his brother and father farm full-time, and his family has been farming in Yankton for more than 136 years.

“We love agriculture. It’s No. 1 here, but this new type of industrial ag needs to be safe for all residents. I see a future for livestock development in Yankton County, but it needs to be done right,” he says.