Hog site near Moorland passes matrix, but supervisors disapprove

Site will likely be OK’d by the DNR, officials say

Though voicing its disapproval, the Webster County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to certify that a new hog confinement site has scored enough points to pass the master matrix.

The Vosika Site planned for east of Moorland is likely to be approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources within 30 days.

A number of farmers and residents of the area attended Tuesday’s meeting. Randy Bennett, who lives in the Sheker Addition, presented a list of questions that he said residents of the district wanted answered, along with their concerns about air and water quality.

Becky Sexton, owner of Twin Lakes Environmental Services, who prepared the master matrix for the site, said she’d been given a copy of those questions and was in the process of sending back answers.

The Sheker Addition is located northwest of Old Highway 20, along 220th Street.

The Vosika Site will be along Hayes Avenue near 240th Street. The plan is for three new 2,480-head deep pit swine finisher confinement buildings.

“I am not against hog operations,” Bennett said. “I am against ones where you can’t breathe.

“How will the producers give back what is being lost?” he asked. “As they will make money, we will lose everything we have worked for. The assessed values of our homes will take a loss. How much compensation will the producers contribute to the results of their neighbors’ quality of lives being risked? There are all kinds of health factors here.”

Bennett said the people in his area wanted the supervisors to fight this.

“You, as our leaders we elected to represent us, can help your constituents,” Bennett said. “We will stand with you to defend our health and property that our politicians and the DNR have control over, damaging our natural resources and this state. Please do what is right.”

Bennett said several in that area have shallow wells, and when fields flood the water comes from the field into their well. He also said the neighborhood is impossible to use at times when manure is being spread.

“We have been keeping records of when the smell imprisons us in our own homes,” he said. “We cannot use our neighborhood, there were two and a half to three weeks around Thanksgiving last year.”

Another hog confinement, the Messerly Site, already stands along 230th Street east of Hayes Avenue, closer to the Sheker Addition.

“It’s my understanding this is the same producer,” Bennett said.

“It’s Dallas,” said Sexton. “We are putting pit additives in there now, so it should start getting better for you.”

The Vosika Site plan was filed by MLT LLC, which gives an address owned by Dallas Thomas, of Farnhamville.

The pit additives “should help with the odor you have,” Sexton said.

Supervisor Merrill Leffler said it had been found previously that chicken manure on fields may be causing some smell issues in the Sheker Addition.

“You need to investigate that too,” Leffler said.

Bennett said he was concerned with water usage, as well as water quality, with 7,440 hogs moving in.

“How much water is projected to be used per day or per hog?” he asked. “Will the producer be forced to maintain a water reserve to limit our wells from going dry?”

Bennett asked if the people could be notified when manure was going to be spread.

Sexton said probably not by a notice in the paper, as he had originally requested, but she could send something in the mail to people in the neighborhood.

Bennett also asked if there was a limit to how much manure would be spread.

“We have a maximum, it’s all by law,” Sexton said.

Another farmer from the audience wanted to know who watches that.

Sexton said the DNR monitors it — which started a bit of a back and forth when the farmer didn’t seem to believe her.

“I tell you they don’t,” he said.

“I’ve been doing site inspections with the DNR. I go on site inspections at least three days a week,” Sexton said. “When you work with them you know.”

The board had to vote on the issue Tuesday. It couldn’t wait until after a future evening meeting with the residents because the recommendation has to be sent to the DNR by Monday, Supervisor Nick Carlson said.

If it’s not done by then, the DNR just considers the permit without any input from the supervisors, Auditor Doreen Pliner said.

And the letter from the DNR about the permit contains a reminder of Iowa law — if the county does not submit the matrix score and recommendation by the deadline, the DNR will not consider any subsequent recommendations from the county until the next time Webster County is eligible to adopt a new construction evaluation resolution, which is next January.

The supervisors have to vote on whether or not the site passes the matrix, Carlson said. They can also tell the DNR whether or not the approve of the site. But the DNR makes the decision to approve the permit.

Supervisor Mark Campbell and County Planning and Zoning Administrator Chad Bahr visited the site with a DNR representative, Carlson said. They agreed that the site scored 470 points. A site needs 440 points to pass.

“We had no problem with the scoring,” Leffler said. “The matrix is what it is, unfortunately, in my opinion. But they do have a second question on there. That’s why we made a motion to actually disapprove of the permit, which we have the right to do if we choose.”

Leffler said the DNR’s decision goes by the scoring.

“Terminology-wise, you do not have the authority to approve or disapprove the permit,” said Assistant County Attorney Brad McIntyre. “You make a recommendation to the DNR, and your recommendation from what you just passed is that you disapprove. But the board has no power to approve or disapprove. Your only power is to score your own master matrix, which you did.”

The people can still go to the DNR with their concerns, Supervisor Keith Dencklau said.

“I don’t want you to get your hopes up,” said Supervisor Bob Thode. “I haven’t seen the DNR overturn anything we’ve sent to them.”

The supervisors made a similar vote in November when they took numerous complaints from citizens of Duncombe about two confinements, one of which was less than a mile from the town.

Although the supervisors concurred with Duncombe’s mayor that the site wasn’t suitable, they said the sites passed the master matrix. After these were approved, Dencklau asked the board to appeal the DNR’s decision to the Environmental Protection Commission. No other supervisors voted to do this.

During this process, the DNR told Duncombe city officials that the DNR’s hands were tied, and that it had to simply follow the master matrix as set up by Legislature.

More recently, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors did appeal a DNR decision to the EPC, claiming the site wasn’t suitable in spite of matrix scoring.

The EPC didn’t act on the appeal.

The Humboldt board voted on Feb. 26 to take that case to district court.

After the appeal to the EPC, an attorney for the livestock facility said Humboldt County should lose its privilege to evaluate construction permits, as per Iowa law, for its “frivolous” complaint.