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Bemidji City Council: Chickens given 24 hours

Two Bemidji city councilors said Tuesday that Sam Kvale's free-range chicken farm at 1227 Norton Ave. N.W. was the cleanest chicken ranch they had ever seen. But Kvale was still given 24 hours to remove his 100 chickens from the Bemidji city limits due to concerns about a neighbor's health. Submitted Photo

The health of a Bemidji resident was paramount.

The Bemidji City Council on Tuesday voted 4-2 to require Sam Kvale to remove his flock of 100 chickens from the city limits within 24 hours.

Kvale was granted a livestock permit in July that allowed for the maintaining of 100 chickens at 1227 Norton Ave. N.W.

The permit stipulated, however, that if "one complaint" was received, the chickens would need to be removed from the city limits.

A complaint was registered Aug. 31 on behalf of Deborah Hagestad, who lives kitty-corner from the chicken farm.

Hagestad said Tuesday that she has respiratory issues and "bird-breeder's lung."

Hagestad used to raise pigeons. She said she gave it up after she developed respiratory issues and "bird-breeder's lung." She said that after 18 months of treatment, she recovered in 2004.

That illness has returned, she told the council, due to the presence of the chickens.

"It's the dust (from the birds) that gets into my lungs and is eating my lungs away," she said.

Kvale was initially told to remove the chickens from the property by Sept. 4 due to the complaint.

Instead, Kvale and the property owners, John Wilder and Shannon Murray, decided to appeal to the City Council to fight the revocation of the permit.

They lost that battle on Tuesday, but some councilors were in favor of trying to find some way to reach a compromise.

"I'm very torn," said Councilor Greg Negard. "This is probably the cleanest chicken ranch I've ever seen."

Kvale said the goal of raising the chickens was to provide a sustainable and healthy way to local food. The birds survive on fresh air, green grass and natural bugs.

Kvale, along with Murray, said no one who has handled the chickens has become ill and the chickens themselves have been declared healthy.

"I don't see a way that my birds could be considered a health hazard," he said.

Mayor Richard Lehmann wanted to extend Kvale's permit two more weeks, until Sept. 18, to allow the birds to mature and be slaughtered.

However, he was in the minority. A motion to allow Kvale two more weeks failed on a 5-1 vote. Only Lehmann voted in favor of the extra time. Opposed were Councilors Hellquist, Johnson, Meuers, Negard and Waldhausen. Councilor Jerry Downs was absent.

"It's a great, noble effort," Waldhausen said of the chicken farm. "But I do have to err on the side of caution of human health."

Immediately following that motion, Negard made a motion that the chickens be moved within 48 hours, a motion he said was a "kind gesture" instead of 24 hours.

Waldhausen initially seconded that motion, but then withdrew his second. That vote on the motion failed on a 3-3 tie as Lehmann, Johnson and Negard were the only ones in favor.

The other councilors then tried to reach a compromise. Kvale and Murray said they believed they could find an alternate site within the city to house the chickens for two weeks before they became mature enough for slaughter.

But a motion to that effect failed on a 3-3 tie: only Lehmann, Meuers and Waldhausen voted in favor.

Frustrated, Meuers asked the "no" voters what they wanted to see instead.

Hellquist said he wanted the chickens gone within 24 hours and made that a motion. It passed as Hellquist, Johnson, Lehmann and Negard voted in favor.

Following the meeting, Kvale said he did not know what would happen next.

He was slightly brightened that some of the councilors were in favor of the effort, even if they ultimately voted against him.

But what was frustrating to both Kvale and Murray was that they had been asking since the complaint was filed for a written document from a doctor stating that Hagestad had a legitimate health concern.

They went to City Hall Tuesday morning to try to obtain such a document and it was not available.

But a doctor's note, signed on Friday, was provided to the council in time for its meeting that stated that Hagestad has a history of lung problems that have been complicated by the recent exposure to birds.

Now, Hagestad said, she is back to taking multiple medications and doing breathing treatments three times a day.

"It's just getting worse," she said.

Hellquist was especially passionate about following the advice of the doctor.

"It's her life," he said. "For him, it's a hobby."

Kvale said he and his friends regard the chicken effort as more than a hobby. Rather, they want to use the project as a positive, educational example for how to raise healthy, local food.

Even police officer Tom Charboneau said Kvale's farm is clean.

"I have absolutely no problem with the way they run their operation," he said.