Commission: Request moratorium on hog confinements

Webster Co. supervisors take no action Tuesday

Webster County should ask state officials to put a moratorium on any permits for new animal confinement buildings in the state until new rules guiding their construction can be passed, the chairman of the Webster County Planning and Zoning Commission said Tuesday.

Chairman Jon Anderson brought the commission’s recommendation to the county Board of Supervisors after several public meetings held over the past five months.

The supervisors took no official action on the recommendation Tuesday.

Anderson said a previous letter on confinements provided to The Messenger in December had not been an official recommendation from the planning and zoning commission.

The letter presented on Tuesday was created after the supervisors told the commission to prepare a list of recommendations, Anderson said.

“You had asked us as the zoning board to do this, so this is where we’re at with it,” he said.

“Current laws, regulations and zoning ordinances are viewed as inadequate protection for the environment and citizens of Webster County,” Anderson said, reading from the commission’s recommendations. “The Master Matrix as it is written now has failed to address the impact of (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) on the environment, rural residents and property owners in Webster County and the state.”

CAFOs of a certain size are approved or denied based on points they score within the master matrix, which was created by the Iowa Legislature in 2002. The county can make a recommendation whether or not a site should be approved, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has the final say.

County supervisors also have no ability to change the master matrix; any updated language would come from the state Legislature.

The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the supervisors:

– Petition the governor, the state Legislature and the IDNR to re-address the master matrix, which the commission called “outdated.”

– Ask the governor and state Legislature to address zoning ordinances to help each county protect its assets during site selection for CAFOs.

– Request that the IDNR be directed to suspend the issuance of any additional CAFO construction permits until legislation regarding the master matrix can be reviewed, changed and adopted.

“My personal comment on this is, after three meetings, some of which were rather lively, it was found that there are real and valid problems for residents living near the confined feeding operations and the land where the manure from these CAFOs is applied,” Anderson said.

“Smells and manure management — those two issues, if they had been handled in a more good-neighbor way, 90 percent of the nuisance complaints and damage would go away,” Anderson went on. “And from my personal standpoint, if the authors of the master matrix and the county supervisors lived in close proximity to the CAFOs, we would not be having this discussion today. The problem would have been solved a long time ago.”

Discussions on the master matrix began in earnest after an uptick in permit applications for CAFOs this fall.

Most CAFOs were approved by the supervisors, who said they could only look at the items in the master matrix. One of those CAFO permits was for a site near Clare, and was twice rejected by the supervisors.

The application for that site has since been withdrawn.

This isn’t the first time Webster County has talked about petitioning the Legislature.

In December, Supervisor Keith Dencklau said a letter was given to state Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge. The letter, written on the Board of Supervisors’ letterhead, is titled “Webster County’s proposals for changes to the CAFO and matrix.”

Those suggestions and requests came from talking points that were brought to the Planning and Zoning Commission at a Nov. 3 meeting, Dencklau said.

That letter also called for a moratorium on new confinements.

The earlier letter was not a final product from the Planning and Zoning Commission, Anderson said Tuesday.

“That was a composite of ideas. … It was a rough draft,” Anderson said. “There were a lot of crazy ideas on it.”

At least six other Iowa counties either passed resolutions or sent official letters asking the governor and Legislature to revisit and change the master matrix.

Pocahontas County sent “CAFO recommendations for legislation changes” to the governor, legislators and the IDNR on Dec. 13, according to meeting minutes.

On Jan. 9, Allamakee County supervisors passed a resolution requesting such a change. On Jan. 30, a similar resolution was passed by Winneshiek County.

Floyd County and Dickinson County passed one on Feb. 14, and Howard County passed one on Feb. 27 with a revised resolution approved on Monday.

Allamakee, Dickinson and Winnesheik’s resolutions specifically request a moratorium on new buildings until legislation addressing the master matrix can be passed. Dickinson’s resolution was identical to Winnesheik’s.

Meeting minutes from Floyd County refer to sample letters and resolutions from Webster, Pocahontas and Winneshiek counties.

Several of the resolutions call for more local control, contending the “karst topography in northeast Iowa” pose hazards the IDNR needs to consider.

“The master matrix has failed to adequately differentiate between the geography, water sources and other critical considerations throughout different regions within the state,” Floyd County’s resolution states.

To see the commission’s recommendations, click here Webster County Planning and Zoning CAFO Recommendation