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Supervisors: In new year, hopes for changes to master matrix

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources only considers the matrix when approving CAFOs

As a new year begins, Webster County supervisors may again look to the state Legislature for changes to the master matrix, which determines where animal confinements can be built.

Since at least 2016, the supervisors have been asking lawmakers for help — though so far with little success.

“We have a new representative this year, and the session will be starting soon,” Supervisor Mark Campbell said. “At that time we will sit down and have conversations with them about concerns that are brought to us.”

Builders of confined animal feeding operations have to score a number of points on the matrix in order to build at a given site.

In the great majority of cases, the supervisors don’t have a problem with where a CAFO is built, said Supervisor Keith Dencklau, but on occasion the matrix has shortcomings, and the supervisors are powerless.

“I think we have only turned down a couple since I’ve been here,” Dencklau said.

Campbell doesn’t expect big changes.

“I don’t think they’ll open up the matrix, but I think the conversation will help with the rules,” he said. “A conversation with our representatives and legislative leaders will hopefully bring about some sort of new process, or improved process.”

One concern the supervisors hear is with the roads, Campbell said, and the increased wear and tear on roads that can result when a large animal confinement goes in.

“The matrix does not address those types of things, but those are the challenges that counties deal with,” he said.

“There’s a lot of new things going on in respect to confinements that farmers don’t get credit for that they do, that they could get credit for,” Campbell continued. “But there’s other things in the matrix, like Supervisor Dencklau has addressed, that points are given for that no longer exist.

“It’s all a conversation. (The Iowa State Association of Counties) has been very good about starting that conversation. We have good landowners who come in and help us, and we look forward to working with producers on that.”

Tuesday the supervisors signed a construction evaluation resolution, a procedural step they must take every year in order to gain the right to examine sites using the master matrix.

The board’s job is to ensure the matrix was scored correctly, and then pass the score on to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which has the final say.

The resolution states, based on Iowa code, that the board’s final recommendation to the DNR “may be based on the final score on the master matrix or may be based on reasons other than the final score on the master matrix.”

However, the matrix is the only thing the DNR considers, Dencklau said.

In March 2017, the supervisors signed a resolution calling for the governor and state Legislature to “address the failings” of the master matrix, saying changes are needed to “protect the air, water, health, ‘quality of life,’ and economic interests of the citizens we were elected to represent.”

The resolution didn’t go as far as a recommendation by the Webster County Planning and Zoning Commission, which said the supervisors should request a moratorium on all new CAFO buildings until new rules could be passed.

This followed the summer of 2016 when the supervisors twice rejected an application for a proposed 5,000-head hog operation which would have been about a mile and a half west of Clare. The company needed a score of at least 440 based on the master matrix in order to build there. The company’s own scoring equaled 445, but the supervisors’ analysis put the score nearer to 310.

That application was later withdrawn by the company.

In November 2017 residents of Duncombe complained that two proposed hog confinements would be too close to town, and worried about water quality in the drainage ditch that runs directly into the lake at Brushy Creek State Recreation Area.

The supervisors asked the DNR not to approve those sites, but confirmed that they had passed the master matrix.

After the DNR approved the sites anyway, Dencklau asked the supervisors to appeal the decision, but none voted to do so.

One of those two sites was later withdrawn by the applicant, Dencklau said.