Board rejects second application for hog confinement

Citing concerns about water quality, Webster County supervisors for a second time recommended against an application for a hog confinement near Clare.

The Board of Supervisors heard landowner arguments against the proposed 5,000-head operation, as well as from the county conservation and planning and zoning directors, during a large public hearing that drew around 75 people Tuesday morning.

It was standing room only in Webster County’s large courtroom, as about five people restated their objections to the confinement.

People in town have serious concerns about flies and about the smell in Clare, said City Clerk Sharon Gross. And a lot of them are on oxygen.

“They won’t be able to have their windows open. And the biggest problem out there is going to be contamination of Lizard Creek, with the runoff,” Gross said.

The proposed facility would be two 2,500-head deep pit swine finisher confinement buildings halfway between Dakota Avenue and Easter Avenue on Webster County Road C66, about a mile and a half west of Clare.

The facility would be built by New Modern Concepts and run by Iowa Select Farms, both headquartered in Iowa Falls. About five acres would be purchased from Majestic Farms.

The supervisors’ recommendation will go to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which has the final say in whether or not the confinement will be built.

The permit application from Granite Farms IV LLC was made previously, and the supervisors voted not to recommend on July 26. Before the DNR issued a ruling, the application was withdrawn and resubmitted.

The facility would also be right on the edge of the Manson crater, which makes drilling wells very difficult, Gross said.

“The city of Manson has drilled six wells into that same crater the land sits on, and has not found water yet,” she said. “There’s no way they’re going to be able in that crater to get enough water for that hog confinement.”

Lorrie Vosberg, of Clare, said the facility would greatly decrease property values.

“The odor is going to be there,” she said. “Right now Clare is struggling, and we were hoping to get some people from the industrial park when it filled up. But nobody’s going to want to buy in Clare if there’s smell like that.

“I also have a grandson who has a severe case of asthma, and he will not be able to come to my house.”

The Lizard Creek drainage situation is a concern for Matt Cosgrove, Webster County Conservation director.

“The conservation board met last week, and asked me to put together a letter requesting you to object to this permit,” Cosgrove said, “based on the fact that the city, county, state and local paddlers have spent over $25,000 working with four different landowners to put in the Lizard Creek Water Trail on the North Lizard.”

The creek flows into the Des Moines River, which is also a water trail.

“We’re working on becoming a recreational corridor, and having this empty directly into that watershed goes against the plans for attracting people to come here and recreate in our waters,” he said.

Lonnie Nichols, planning and zoning administrator, said local officials think it’s time to update the rules regarding such confinements.

“The (Planning and Zoning) commission respectfully requests that the board make a concerted effort to work with state legislators, hog producers and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to review the process for issuing construction permits and master matrix applications for confined animal feeding operations,” Nichols said. “It simply seems there is room for improvements in the system that will keep our county and state pro-agriculture while also proactively protecting groundwater, air quality, natural resources and community livability.”

It’s a timely concern.

Supervisor Merrill Leffler said the county has received eight applications for new confinements in one week.

“I think we’re going to be flooded with these buildings,” Leffler said.

The supervisors also received 26 letters against it, one in favor of it, and a petition against it with 214 signatures, said Supervisor Mark Campbell.

Leffler said the board’s decision is based mainly on the location.

“I don’t care who the owners are. That has no bearing for me,” Leffler said. “This is a very, very bad place to put this, in this particular case.”

The company needed a score of at least 440 based on the master matrix in order to build the plant there, Leffler said. The company’s own scoring equaled 445.

However, the supervisors’ analysis puts the score nearer to 310.

“If we subtract the points from the matrix that I believe need to be subtracted, they don’t meet the minimum requirements,” Leffler said. “The company has another company score their matrix. I look at that as their side of the equation. It is our job to score the matrix ourselves, and give a recommendation to the DNR.”

Those subtractions involved runoff, the proximity to Lizard Creek, and some runoff areas that have been built on the property, he said.

But other issues – such as odor and the effect it may have on asthma sufferers – aren’t part of the matrix.

“The matrix does not address some of the issues brought up by the public today,” Supervisor Clark Fletcher said. “If you have concerns about that, I would encourage you to contact your legislators. This matrix is designed and implemented by the Iowa code, and in order to get that changed, you have to have some action at that level.”

Two of those legislators attended the meeting, though they didn’t speak at it.

State Rep., Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, is the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, and said it may be time to revisit the matrix scoring rules.

“It might be good to look at. Even if you look at it and say ‘It’s perfect,’ I think it’s been a while, and periodically we just need to go back and review things,” Miller said.

Those changes won’t come quickly, said state Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge.

“Anybody who’s familiar with the way the Legislature works – it takes a long time to get laws enacted and changed,” Kraayenbrink said. “We have to make sure it’s in the best interests of everybody involved, because we represent everybody.”

Lawmakers have to beware of unintended consequences when making any changes, he said.

“If we need to make some adjustments, those adjustments have to be well-thought-out, they have to be tested,” Kraayenbrink said.

In the meantime, he said, the people of Clare are doing the right thing by writing letters for the DNR and speaking up to the supervisors.

In the meantime, people need to “continue to fight as hard as they can for their rights,” he said. “This is how democracy works. The people have to speak up and share their opinions.”

Both legislators said they have seen an increase in confinement operations.

Kraayenbrink said one is planned for just 1.4 miles east of Twin Lakes in Calhoun County.

“We are seeing more and more hog confinements across the state,” Miller said. “It’s not just something happening here, and apparently there’s an uptick in the number that’s happening here.”