Hog confinements raise concerns

Webster County supervisors provide valuable scrutiny

Deciding whether or not proposed hog confinements pose environmental risks or threaten unacceptably the quality of life for folks who live near them is a complicated matter.

The final decision regarding approval rests with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The process of evaluating proposed confinements makes use of a scoring system called the master matrix. Each county’s board of supervisors has a limited role in this process. Boards are asked to verify that each proposal has been scored correctly. If the scoring has been done properly and the required point total to pass the master matrix has been achieved, it is anticipated that local boards will certify that to the DNR.

This month, however, the Webster County Board of Supervisors raised concerns about two proposed hog confinements to be built near Duncombe. Even though they had passed the master matrix these projects had problems that board members regarded as sufficiently significant to warrant disapproval recommendations.

In urging that these confinements be rejected, board members called attention to limitations of the master matrix scoring mechanism. Supervisor Keith Dencklau said it concerned him that in some circumstances a proposed confinement could achieve the required point total while still presenting problems for neighbors and the broader community that warranted serious evaluation rather than automatic approval because of a passing score.

Webster County supervisors concluded that even though the scoring had been done accurately and passing scores achieved, they could not disregard shortcomings of these proposed sites that were causing concern in the community.

The Messenger supports the decision by the Webster County Board of Supervisors to treat the hog confinement approval process as more than a mechanical scoring exercise. The system should allow for serious reflection on how a confinement fits into a community’s broader quality-of-life goals. We hope the DNR will take a hard look at the the reasons the board urged rejection of these proposals.

More broadly, we believe the Legislature should consider giving local governments more discretion in this process. City and county officials are in a better position than DNR bureaucrats to know how a confinement project will impact their communities.