Humboldt supervisors to appeal hog facility near Thor

County will protest project’s proximity to existing business

DAKOTA CITY — The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to appeal a proposed hog confinement to Iowa District Court.

Barn Owl Farms LLC, affiliated with Iowa Select Farms, has been granted a permit by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to construct the Texas Finisher Farm hog confinement at 240th Street and Texas Avenue northwest of Thor.

The supervisors opposed the DNR granting the permit, and appealed the DNR decision to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission.

Last week the EPC allowed the DNR approval to stand.

On Monday about a dozen residents urged the board to go to court. A petition opposing the facility was presented to the board.

When the appeal comes up the board will be able to present new evidence that the confinement does not meet the points required in the master matrix, Supervisor David Lee said. He represented the board before the EPC.

The master matrix is used by the DNR in evaluating where a confinement site can be located.

At last week’s hearing, the supervisors learned of a business located near the proposed confinement. They were unaware of the business before then.

David Stensland said he owns the commercial business near the site, which the DNR was also not aware of.

Stensland operates Iowa Farm Business Services LLC out of his home near Thor, and has an office in Humboldt as well. It is an accounting business, and he has customers coming to his house. Because the site is in close proximity to his business, the facility should have received only five points, rather than 30 on the master matrix, which would have put the company below the minimum 440 points needed for approval, he said.

“We were never contacted by Iowa Select or any of the owners or anything,” Stensland said. He said he first became aware of the proposal when the board appealed to the EPC. “We didn’t know anything about it.”

Residents and the board said they only had three days’ notice prior to the EPC hearing.

The commercial business section is the critical grounds on which the board has to appeal because that would take points away from the matrix, Humboldt County Attorney Jon Beaty said.

Everything else in the matrix seems to have been scored properly.

“It sounded like this is probably the best course of action to take here,” Beaty said.

At last week’s hearing, the EPC’s attorney said the commission can only use the information that was available before, not any new evidence, Lee said.

The appeal hearing would be in Humboldt, but it might be as late as September, Beaty said.

Barn Owl has already been approved for construction. It would be a moot point going to court in September if the facility is already built, Supervisor Erik Underberg said.

“We would have to provide information suggesting that we may prevail in order to stop construction,” Beaty said.

He will ask for the court for a stay in construction, he said.

“When we appealed it the first time it was an uphill battle,” Board Chairman Bruce Reimers said. “It is still an uphill battle. We are uphill from the beginning.”

Reimers said some people are opposed to the board going to court because they have lost appeals in the past and it is wasting the taxpayers’ money.

“I said these are the only steps, the only way that we have to question this is to appeal it,” Reimers said.

“That is our only option,” Underberg added.

Some Thor residents have been opposed to the facility because property on which manure would be spread extends up to the town limits.

Stensland said he has no problem with the matrix, but he said it should be presented correctly.

“We will probably end up suing if that building goes in there because our property value is going to go to null,” he said.

Resident Don Bobinet said he knew nothing about the details of what was being proposed.

“I worked with hogs all my life,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything about it till I heard about it Saturday.”

The information is available from the board of adjustment, Lee said.

“Usually we try to notify the neighbors around there. By law we don’t have to, but just out of courtesy we need to,” he said.

The big hog companies will not go out and talk to the neighbors, he said. “They never have.”

The facility will be a finisher site with 5,000 head, with two buildings.

The site is along a minimum maintenance road, and the county may have to spend money to upgrade the road, residents said. The only money the county receives from the facilities is from property tax.

“There are 58 sites with more than 120 hog buildings in the county right now that we know of,” Lee said.

Reimers said he would keep residents informed as soon has he learns anything.