Lincoln County approves milk condensing plant’s permit despite outspoken opposition

“Lincoln County needs more value-added ag processing." Commissioner Joel Arends said. "We need to keep moving in that direction."

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CANTON, S.D. — A controversial dairy plant will be coming to rural Lincoln County after all.

The Lincoln County Commission on Tuesday, May 23, voted unanimously to uphold the county’s planning and zoning board’s decision to issue a conditional use permit to Mikota Holdings, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a milk condensing plant northwest of Beresford.

The plant — which would remove some of the water content from milk collected from two nearby dairies,
thus reducing the overall volume — had been the subject of controversy since its conditional use permit was first approved by the county’s planning and zoning authority on March 20.

Residents and township officials aired a laundry list of complaints and concerns about the proposed plant in Delaware Township.

Following the decision’s appeal by a resident who lived near the proposed site, the commission held a public hearing on April 25, in which nine county residents and township officials — most of which were against the plant — spoke for the meeting’s entire duration, forcing a vote to be tabled.

The chief complaint that focused on Mikota Holdings’ use of township roads, which came from Brooklyn Township officials Steve Holmberg and Duane Carlson, who said Mikota Holdings and their contractors had severely damaged township roads on multiple occasions.


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Brooklyn Township Chairman Steve Holmberg speaks to the Lincoln County planning board on March 20, 2023.
Screenshot / Lincoln County via YouTube

Though the plant is located in southern Delaware Township, the two complained that Mikota Holdings’ pre-existing dairy operations had damaged Brooklyn Township roads by driving overloaded vehicles across county bridges, entrenched township roads, ripped up ditches and even illegally replaced a culvert.

“I’m very concerned that there will be a tragic accident — only the Lord knows why there hasn’t been one or more up to this point. Several people have told me about near misses and accidents,” Holmberg said. "If you’re wondering why Brooklyn Township is a little skeptical of some of these things these people are doing, that’s why. I don’t feel that (Mikota Holdings) and their operations have been truthful to Brooklyn Township or the citizens and the community.”

Following the tabled vote on April 25, a decision on the appeal was tabled again on May 2, as commissioners asked Mikota Holdings and Brooklyn Township to arrange a road haul agreement, which would obligate the company to reimburse the township for damages to roads determined to be a result of beyond-normal use.

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A map of Lincoln County's townships shows the location of a proposed milk condensation plant.
Contributed / Lincoln County

To the disappointment of the Lincoln County Commission during its May 23 meeting, Mikota Holdings and Brooklyn Township had not reached an agreement, despite being given more than three additional weeks to do so.

Enter Commissioner Joel Arends, who proposed an amendment to add a road haul agreement obligation to the conditions of Mikota Holdings’ permit.

“We directed these parties to come up with a road haul agreement. They have not been able to come up with one. They've had three-and-a-half weeks to do so now, which is a little frustrating,” Arends said. “Essentially what (my amendment) would be is that the applicant would be required to provide maintenance to the roads that it uses for the condensed milk plant above and beyond regular maintenance.”

Nine residents and township officials spoke for 54 minutes against the immediate approval of a conditional use permit for a milk condensing plant northwest of Beresford, forcing a table of the vote.

Commissioner Jim Schmidt said that the addition of a road haul provision wouldn’t be germain to the commission’s business, and could open up a quandary for future decisions involving township roads.

I can understand everybody that has testified from the township side, but on the other hand, we're to vote only on this appeal,” he said. “By starting this kind of legislation, are we prepared to conduct that in Prairie and Delapre and Springdale and all the rest of these townships? I look at this as saying we either can support the appeal or turn it down and get on with this.”


The proposed amendment was voted down 3-1 by the body, with only Arends voting in favor of adding the road haul provision.

Shifting gears back to the original question, Arends said the milk condensing plant would be a good example of much needed agricultural expansion in the county.

“Lincoln County needs more value-added ag processing. We had 500 dairy cows 30 years ago, 15,000 in this county now," Arends said. "We need to keep moving in that direction because … a lot of time that builds the local economy here in Lincoln County, and that’s good for ag producers.”

This conceptual design depicts a milk condensing plant proposed for construction northwest of Beresford. The plant would remove the water from milk to allow for easier transport.
Contributed / Lincoln County

He reiterated, however, that by upholding the permit’s original approval, Brooklyn Township would be missing out.

“I wish these people would’ve been able to get together and get a deal, and I think what the township is going to find out now is that they were offered a deal, they didn't take it, and now they’re not gonna get anything, and it's too bad,” Arends said. “It’s too bad they couldn’t get this thing fixed, and now, as a county, we’re going to end up dealing with this.”

Schmidt added that while the road haul provision wasn’t topical, he would like to see better enforcement on load limits in Brooklyn Township, calling on the county’s highway department to pay more attention as the fall harvest approaches.

The commission voted 4-0 — with Commissioner James Jibben absent — to deny the appeal and uphold the decision of the planning and zoning board.

The decision paves the way for Mikota Holdings to begin work on its 47,000 square-foot plant, for which no completion date has been determined.


A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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