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Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald , Published December 18 2011

South Dakota Hutterite colony to build in Traill County despite protests

HILLSBORO, N.D. — Despite protests from some neighbors, a Hutterite colony likely will start construction in the spring in southern Traill County.

On Wednesday, the Bohnsack Township Board approved the plans by Hutterite families who are breaking off from a colony near Mitchell, S.D., to form the Spruce Lane Colony.

About 20 people were in the audience, a big crowd by township board standards but not compared with the Nov. 17 hearing about the colony that attracted 120 people.

“They weren’t just people from that area,” Traill County Sheriff Mike Crocker said. “They were people from all over the county. There’s been a lot of curiosity over this.”

Also, some controversy. A group of neighbors called “Residents for a Greener Traill” hired the Vogel Law Firm of Fargo to protest the development.

“We want to make it clear that our opposition does not have anything to do with the applicants,” attorney Jade Rosenfels told township officials. “It’s strictly related to the use of the property. Long-term residents want to protect the rural land.

“We perceive it to be a large commercial operation.”

Rosenfels said the group is contemplating whether to appeal the board’s approval.

Farming and manufacturing

Mike Waldner, the project leader of the Spruce Lane Colony, said it’s common for colonies to split into a daughter colony when the mother colony becomes too populated.

“We like to keep our operations at a moderate level,” he said. “A colony typically has about 20 families and 4,000 acres. That’s about 200 acres per family. So, we’re not land robbers.”

Waldner said about 2,100 acres have been purchased so far.

The Millbrook Colony near Mitchell has about 140 members. When Spruce Lane construction has been completed in about four years, about half of them will relocate.

For the construction period, 25-30 members will be on site.

Hutterites are a branch of Anabaptists, similar to Amish and Mennonites, who form communal farms and also often have manufacturing. They are mostly self-sufficient. Spruce Lane will fit the model, as it will include:

Environmental concerns

It also will include a residential sewage lagoon, the root of complaints by the “Residents for a Greener Traill.”

“Their lagoon is one-eighth of a mile from the Elm River,” Angie Hamre said. “Also, we’re worried what effect the manufacturing plant will have on the environment, contaminating the soil and water.”

However, John Henn, township chairman, said the colony has met zoning requirements.

“All we can do is follow the ordinance,” Henn said. “It puts board members in a tough spot. Usually, the biggest thing we deal with is a machine shed.

“But I think this is a good thing. They’ll be good neighbors. And their tax dollars will go to the school district.”

Waldner said some critics mistakenly thought the colony doesn’t pay property taxes. He said he doesn’t believe the criticism is personal.

“Their concerns are very understandable,” he said. “With every new colony, there are always concerns.

“It’s just hard for people to accept change. It’s a big change for this area.”