Silage causes consternation with City of Marion

A pile of silage is shown above. The City of Marion contends it is blurring the lines between ag and populated areas. Patty Decker / Free Press
A pile of silage is shown above. The City of Marion contends it is blurring the lines between ag and populated areas. Patty Decker / Free Press
Mike Beneke, who owns Double B, a cattle business east of Lincolnville, is wanting his day in court.

The reason is because Marion city officials allege Beneke is blurring the boundary line between agricultural operations and the populated area within the city by piling hundreds, if not thousands, of tons of silage in the front of what used to be owned by Straub International at 601 W. Main St.

Beneke, who recently purchased the building and property, said Monday that he plans to ask Marion Municipal Court Judge Randy Pankratz what he is in violation of when he appears Aug. 29 for a hearing.

The estimated amount of tonnage, according to Beneke, is about 4,000 tons, which is based on his calculations that every acre of corn chopped yields 10 tons of silage. He said he chopped 400 acres.

Roger Holter, Marion city administrator, on Friday said one big concern by the city is that the silage is sitting in an open field adjacent to the designated flood plain within city limits.

“Therein lies our concerns,” he said. “Our community going back to 1875, and in the original ordinances of our city, saw the need to identify agricultural support areas, which were outside the populated area of the city.”

Throughout its history, the city has basically segregated agricultural operations to the country (the county), he said, and within the municipality its tried to keep the environment safe for residents.

With the amount of silage being stored in such close proximity to residents, Holter said, “this is why (city officials) believe this is a big deal.”

Beneke said because of the drought, he chopped much of the corn for feed, and doesn’t plan to move it right now.

“We will be removing it when it’s time, which won’t be until this winter,” he said.

Prior to closing on the former Straub International building and property, Beneke said he understood he could store agricultural products in open as well as closed areas.

“I wholeheartedly believe that because this silage pit is not permanent, it doesn’t create a health risk, and it’s my understanding the zoning issue was dropped by the city,” he said.

The initial complaint regarding the silage was reported to the city, Holter said, on July 24 by a citizen, who came to city hall, and by another who called his office.

“These were from actual neighbors to the operation expressing concerns and questions regarding proper permitting (and other issues),” he said.

Two days later on July 26, Holter said Beneke was asked by multiple parties to please stop adding to the pile until the matter could be researched and resolved. But, apparently, the accumulation continued and didn’t cease until July 31.

“To (the council’s) knowledge,” Holter explained, “no more product was added after July 31.”

Beneke said that by the time he was notified about anything, he was already three days into it and would be finished up in two days, so he continued.

“I could have chopped 200 more acres, but I stopped because I was notified I was doing something, and didn’t understand exactly what,” he said. “But, if I run out of feed by making that decision (it could be costly).”

Beneke said he also went to the city twice to ask if he could discuss the matter.

But, Holter said, he came once to a council meeting, and when he was there he wanted to know when he would be officially served notice, so he could appeal.

“The property owner believes he should be able to conduct agricultural operations in an area that is actually not zoned for this,” he said.

Beneke said he wanted to appeal because he doesn’t understand what he is in violation of doing.

In addition to the city’s position, which is safety to citizens, protecting the environment and zoning, Beneke also had concerns about safety and protecting his own investment.

Holter said that Beneke reached out to the city police department about people driving or walking on the silage, and requested additional surveillance of his property.

“Even the property owner has concerns, but (as of Monday) no cases have been filed or reported,” Holter said.

Municipal court hearings are in the city council meeting room, 203 N. Third St.