PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — An egg-production facility planned in Turner County remains on hold because of circumstances outside its control, including a dispute over a California law that requires more space for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves.

The delay put a lawyer for Sonstegard Foods Company before the South Dakota Water Management Board on Wednesday, seeking more time to put to use two of the sets of state permits issued for the project that would be located east of Marion.

The board accepted the company’s voluntary surrender of one permit that expired September 4, 2023, and granted the request from attorney John Taylor of Sioux Falls for five more years on the other two sets of permits.

One set of permits, first approved in 2016, would take 222.2 acre-feet of water annually from eight wells 50 to 60 feet deep into the Vermillion West Fork aquifer.

The second group, approved in 2018 and 2019, calls for tapping 222.2 acre-feet of water annually from two wells 60 feet deep into the Vermillion East Fork: Montrose aquifer.

Taylor said in a letter to the board that the project’s delay was due to “legal obstacles and exigent circumstances.” First was a legal dispute over changes to the Turner County zoning ordinance.

Then there was a multi-year court battle over California’s “Proposition 12” law that Taylor said “forbid pork and poultry producers from selling products in California which come from animals raised in a ‘cruel manner.'” He said Sonstegard “paused all construction and permitting activities related to the (Turner County facility) pending resolution of the underlying litigation.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld the California law. Writing on one portion of the case, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated, “While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of
pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”

Amid the California legal fight came the COVID-19 pandemic, which Taylor said “upended the poultry and egg-production labor market,” as well as an outbreak of bird flu that he said “decimated” the Sonstegard flock in northern Iowa.

Taylor said that, after the Proposition 12 outcome, the company was “essentially starting over” on development of the Turner County facility. No one provided any written comments or testified regarding his request for five more years to put the water permits to use.

The state board gave the company the additional time. “I certainly think there are valid reasons that have been presented,” board member Rodney Freeman of Huron said.