Editor's Note: This article and photo first appeared in the Dec. 29, 2017 issue of the Yankton Press & Dakotan, which has allowed us to republish it.
by Rob Nielsen, firstname.lastname@example.org
It goes without saying that 2017 has not been a quiet year for Pat Garrity.
As the Yankton County Planning & Zoning director, Garrity has overseen the completion of the Dakota Plains grain terminal at Napa Junction, a big year for building permits and the contentious issue of CAFOs that promises to spill into the new year.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Garrity told the Press & Dakotan. “I can’t say I would look back at this year compared to other years and say, ‘Have I enjoyed this any more (than others)?’ No. This is hard work. … This year hasn’t been as enjoyable as it’s been in past years. On the other side of the coin, has it been productive? Yes, it’s been productive.”
And beyond county government, Garrity has dedicated himself to a much bigger cause — raising awareness of and prevention of suicide.
It’s because of these many efforts that the Press & Dakotan has named Patrick Garrity its Newsmaker of the Year for 2017.
Big things happened in Yankton County throughout the year, but hardly anything got bigger than the Dakota Plains Ag grain terminal at Napa Junction.
Garrity’s office has been heavily involved in the process since day one.
“We were able to start out the year getting the construction phase of Dakota Plains in place,” he said. “We got the first TID (tax increment district) done so the financing fell in place. We got that road completed out to Dakota Plains, and Dakota Plains did their part in building the elevator and got the track completed. That was a very promising and good project to get on its way, and now it’s part of that waiting period there to see what entities are going to come in out there. But we do feel confident it has a good draw and will be a good project for the county in the future.”
Garrity said the process of making Dakota Plains was actually fun for him.
“Implementing the first TID was very interesting an educational,” he said. “I actually enjoy that kind of work, so it was fun to watch that go into place and make all of this happen.”
He said finally seeing the completed product —which had been a source of controversy in its own right for a time — open for business in September was at least a short respite before going back to dealing with CAFOs.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “It was short-lived. We jumped from one kettle right into another kettle. One kettle wasn’t quite as warm as the next one was, which I thought was interesting.”
Garrity said that Napa Junction’s future will largely depend on agriculture.
“It’s going to be a continuous project,” he said. “The pressure, the need and the desire is going to come from the ag industries. That’s everything from different products with corn and soybeans to processing and distribution. We have a real gem out there. … It has a very unique multi-modal opportunity.”
It would be impossible to talk about 2017 in the Yankton County Planning & Zoning Department without talking about CAFOs.
Garrity’s office has also been at the forefront of an effort to bring more value-added agriculture to the county, has roused vocal opposition that has accused county officials of mismanaging the situation and more nefarious charges.
“When June hit, it was interesting,” Garrity said. “I remember telling the applicants when we put it all together, ‘Are you folks ready for the intensity that this is going to cause?’ I don’t think any of us were quite ready for how intense that intensity would be. I always knew it would be a controversial subject and it sort of lived up to that reputation.”
He added that a mid-June Planning Commission session really put a scare in everybody.
“The June meeting went until 1:30 a.m. and started at 6 p.m.” he said. “That was a bearcat. I started getting a little spooked as to whether that would be the course for a little while. We managed to get that settled down a bit, but still — four- and five-hour meetings are very, very strenuous. They get followed up by 35-page minutes. This has been a wild year for that. You’re being watched and you’re being analyzed and you’re being critiqued. They make for pretty stressful periods of time.”
Garrity says the county has permitted eight hog barns over the last year and that another is under consideration.
“Each of them has been taken to court and appeals, so that limits how much we can talk about each case or how it goes,” he said. “I do feel that we did everything in zoning that we’re supposed to do. We followed that very carefully and we will see how the court cases fall out.”
He added that whether it’s dairy, pork, chicken or beef production, CAFOs have become the dominant reality of agriculture.
“One of the best production practices to meet the requirements of the American consumer — which price is a big piece of it —they are what does the job,” he said. “We have been dealing with (CAFOs) for 20 years. It’s an industry where there’s strong opinions and strong feelings about them. But the bottom line is, we have to recognize that zoning is not to ban things. If we’re going to ban something, then we make a law. … We’re more in the business of, ‘What is the intent of that district?’”
He added that he’s made it a point to tackle the issue ethically.
“Ethics are very important to me,” he said. “I went ahead and did the AICP, which is the American Institute for Certified Planners. Once you become a member of the AICP, you live by a code of ethics. Those ethics are all printed out, and every year, you have to go through and refresh yourself and take course on those ethics. Those ethics are what I think is important in processes like we’re doing. I feel very strongly that our office, our Planning Commission, our County Commission and our County Commission acting as Board of Adjustment all abide by those ethics.”
Building permits have been big business for Yankton County over the last few years — and Garrity said that 2017 has only seen a continuation of the trend.
“The only year that we’re not beating (in terms of permits) as of the last five years is last year because of Dakota Plains,” he said. “If we would’ve taken Dakota Plains out of the equation, we might have beat it (this year). If I got one or two permits this week, we could possibly beat it.”
He said that housing permits have been one of the strongest areas for the county this year.
“Housing continues to be very prominent out in the lake area,” he said. “The homes are getting bigger and bigger. We got two subdivisions and we’ve got another we’re working on now. Subdivisions always lead to more housing lots, and pretty quick, more houses.”
This year, the county has recorded 154 permits for $16.6 million in valuation. Garrity attributes retirees and the lake area as driving more permitting.
He added that agriculture has also been a huge factor.
“The ag community is looking at an awful lot of homes that were built in the early 1900s,” he said. “Those homes are reaching (the end of) their productive and remodeling lives, so a lot of people are replacing them.”
Garrity said he’s even expecting the trend to last into 2018.
“I don’t see any slowdown,” he said. “We did housing permits until a week or two ago because of the nice weather. … I continue to see lots of platting which is a sign of future development. I continue to see lots of inquiries regarding our zoning ordinance and the processes we’re doing, and I believe that we’ll continue to see more growth.”
Garrity’s efforts in 2017 have bridged into a much greater cause than Napa Junction, permits and CAFOs.
After losing his son Sam to suicide in 2015, Garrity and his wife Jan helped found the Bridging Yankton group with the goal of raising suicide awareness.
In 2017, the group held its very first Pathways To Hope, Help and Healing Walk in August.
“We had a very successful walk,” he said. “We were hoping for around 200 or so and we ended up with a little over 400 on the first inaugural walk.”
Garrity said the group plans on spending the next year working on education initiatives, building on the group’s texting program and helping to further break down the stigma around suicide.
“I’m hoping that we can find a place where we have an outlet for people to go that don’t feel they have anywhere to go,” he said. “It’s a big project and the community has responded very, very kindly towards this.”
The group’s next walk is set for Aug. 4, 2018.
Garrity said the group has helped him move forward.
“It’s been part of my healing,” he said. “Healing from something like this is very different. There’s two paths. You either just freeze or fall backwards. … You can become very regressive. You can become isolated. You can become bitter. You can become angry. Or you can go the other way and become more inclusive and more open and more understanding and see things that you’ve never saw before. Have a bigger perspective of what life is and what your journey is.”
But Garrity said working with Bridging Yankton has also helped him personally — especially with respect to the tougher times with his day job.
“Working with this group here has allowed me to go the right direction and find myself more inclusive and more positive and more like I can make a difference,” he said. “It’s kept me grounded and kept me focused so I didn’t become bitter with this CAFO thing. I didn’t find myself running off in a bad direction because of the pressures from other entities.”
Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.
Re-published in the Western Planner February 2017 - Courtesy of Yankton Press & Dakotan