Residents tell Duncombe Council they don’t want proposed hog confinement

‘The master matrix is an absolute joke’

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Dave Haynes, of Duncombe, addresses the town council to oppose proposed hog confinements slated to be built near the town—one of them less than a mile from city limits. The council all opposed the sites as well, but said they had already done everything they could do.

DUNCOMBE — Citizens of Duncombe brought their concerns about hog confinements planned for near the town to the City Council Wednesday night.

While the council had a sympathetic ear, the members all said they had done everything they could do, and had appealed to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Webster County Board of Supervisors as much as possible.

The only recourse, they said, is to appeal to state lawmakers who could make a change in how confined animal feeding operations are scored — though that would come too late for these two sites.

“We have exhausted every option,” said Mayor Dennis Banks, adding that he’s had several meetings with Webster County supervisors about this. “The supervisors said the only one who can change anything is the Legislature.”

Some citizens did contact the DNR and asked them to come to Duncombe and hear concerns, said City Clerk Lynda Wunder.

They weren’t successful.

“The DNR says they don’t do that,” Wunder said. “They haven’t done that in the past, and they are not going to do it in the future.”

The two confinements are the Dunco finisher site, a 5,000-head, two-building site located on Washington Avenue between 200th and 210th streets, less than a mile from Duncombe city limits; and the Newark finisher site, a 7,490-head, two-building site, located on 200th Street east of Taylor Avenue.

Wunder said the DNR representative told her they don’t write the rules, they just have to follow the “master matrix” which was set up by the Legislature.

“Their stance is their hands are tied,” Wunder said.

“The master matrix is an absolute joke,” said Duncombe resident David Haynes. “This is over 25 years old … I guess I’ve had my head buried in the sand before.

“There’s no way they can fail it, unless they want to,” Haynes said. “They only have to answer the questions they want to.”

On the facilities planned for near Duncombe, Iowa Select Farms didn’t take any points for emergency containment, for any filters to reduce smell, or for any landscaping, Haynes said.

At the meeting Nov. 14 before the Webster County Supervisors, company representatives promised that filters and trees to cut back on smell would be used.

But Supervisor Keith Dencklau pointed out that since those items weren’t listed in the matrix, the company isn’t obligated to do it.

“They didn’t have to answer any of the environmental questions,” Banks said Wednesday.

Haynes met with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a Des Moines-based environmental group which has been pushing for changes in regulation of hog confinements, while he was learning about the process.

There is an appeal process, Haynes said, although it wasn’t made clear in the meeting how that would work.

It was suggested that citizens writing letters might actually make more difference than anything else at this point.

“The city already wrote the letters we could,” Banks said.

“The citizens need to do something,” council member Shelly Bair said.

“You need the people to write letters. But people sit down with a paper, and they don’t know what to say,” said Gary West, city maintenance man. “It’s only going to work if all the people organize.”

Only three citizens at the meeting spoke out specifically against the two hog confinements.

Haynes suggested the city could pass a resolution stating how bad the proposals would be for the town, but council members reiterated that they’d done all they can do.

“It’s going to affect our quality of life,” Haynes said. “If it drives land values down, assessments are going to go down, the city’s going to have less money if everybody’s tax value goes down. And what about the lake? Does anybody care about the lake? It creates business here. People go to the gas station, they buy bait and gas. All that could be put into this resolution.”

“Who is telling you there’s a resolution we could pass that would actually do something?” Wunder asked. “According to our county supervisor, there is nothing the city can say to get it stopped.”

Although she’s already talked with the supervisors “ad nauseum,” Wunder promised to ask about the appeal process. She said she’d also try to contact ICCI.

“There hasn’t been a day gone by since we found out about this that we haven’t tried to fight this,” West said.

A letter from the mayor and council making the case against the two sites was read at the Supervisors’ Nov. 14 meeting.

Haynes also hoped a public outcry would persuade Iowa Select, or Richard Stark, who will own the barns, to reconsider.

“In Wayne County there was such an outcry that they stopped it,” Haynes said. “Iowa Select does not like bad publicity, bad press, or the hassle.”

ICCI joined with multiple Iowa counties and petitioned the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission seeking changes to the matrix, in an effort the EPC rejected in September. Webster County didn’t join that effort, but has petitioned lawmakers repeatedly to change the master matrix.

“Every time I see them I ask them. I’m a burr in their saddle,” Dencklau said in September.

On Nov. 14 Supervisors voted to ask the DNR to reject the two confinements near Duncombe, while also acknowledging they’d scored enough points to pass the matrix.

A third proposed confinement near the Gowrie area, which had received little or no public opposition, passed with the supervisors’ approval.

In 2016 the supervisors twice rejected a proposed hog confinement which would have been built near Clare. Each time the plan was submitted, the supervisors said it hadn’t been scored correctly, and didn’t have enough points to pass the matrix. The proposal was later withdrawn by the company.

There are 880 points on the matrix, and 440 are needed to pass. Dunco received a matrix score of 455 and Newark received 480, the supervisors said.