For the first time in several years, the Greene County Board of Supervisors have voted against issuing a construction permit for a new 5,000-head hog confinement.
Questions raised at Monday’s public hearing about drainage at the proposed site in Bristol Township and about the CAFO’s out-of-town owners swayed the five-person board to recommend that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deny the permit application.
About 25 persons attended the hearing, with a dozen of them speaking. After listening to more than an hour of public comments and asking several questions, the supervisors voted four to one in favor of a motion that the permit be disapproved.
The permit was sought by Felix Finisher Farm Site to build two 2,500-head buildings, each 51’ X 384’ with deep pit manure storage, located on 190th Street in Section 19 of Bristol Township.
The CAFO would be owned by Granite Farms IV LLC and built on land owned by Mark Peterson of South Dakota-based Majestic Farms. New Modern Concepts would build the confinement building, and Iowa Select Farms would operate it. Both companies are headquartered in Iowa Falls.
New Modern Concepts builds CAFOs for Cargill Pork, Christensen Farms, Holden Farms, Iowa Select Farms, J-Six, Lynch Livestock, the Maschhoffs and Prestage Farms.
The site scored 460 on the master matrix, a tool used by the DNR and Iowa counties to assess proposed CAFOs based on their estimated impact on air and water and their likely effects on the quality of community life. A total of 880 points are possible on the master matrix, and a score of 440 is needed for approval of a construction permit.
Greene and Dallas are among the 88 Iowa counties that have adopted the master matrix, which allows the counties to “provide more input to producers on site selection, the proposed structures and proposed facility management,” according to DNR policy.
If a CAFO application earns a passing score on the master matrix, the DNR routinely issues it a permit regardless of contrary recommendations from the county. Withholding approval would exceed the DNR’s statutory authority, according to the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee, which has called the master matrix “the exclusive mechanism for the evaluation and approval of an application for the construction or expansion” of a CAFO.
Greene County Board of Supervisors Chair John Muir cast the sole vote Monday favoring approval of the permit.
“I’ve been consistent in my thinking that if the points are there, then the threshold’s been met,” Muir said.
Jon Tiffany was the first to speak at the hearing, and his comments proved to be important in the board’s decision. Tiffany lives two miles north and one mile east of the proposed site. He said he drives past the site daily on his way to and from work in Scranton.
Tiffany told the supervisors the Webster County Board of Supervisors voted three weeks ago against a permit for a Granite Farms IV site because there is no connection between the company and Webster County. Tiffany said he looked up Granite Farms IV on the Iowa Secretary of State’s list of registered corporations.
“The corporation has no officers, no stock issued and no address,” Tiffany told the supervisors Monday. “It has only a registered agent. How could a board of supervisors grant a permit to build to a company that’s so greatly disguised?”
Keith Kratchmer, environmental compliance officer for Iowa Select Farms
Tiffany described the Greene County property as a classic prairie pothole, where spring snow melt or a rain of more than an inch leaves ponds on the site. He estimated standing water covers between 20 and 60 acres of the site at times, yet the manure management plan calls for liquid manure to be spread there.
The water is drained off with Hickenbottom inlets, he said, the orange, perforated, vertical pipes easily seen from the road. Even with the Hickenbottoms, water sometimes stands for days.
“This standing water tends to leech everything out of the ground, including the manure,” Tiffany said, “right to the Hickenbottom, which is a direct pipeline to the tile underground. Presumably that tile district would go to the Raccoon River, which is within about two miles.”
Nutrient-rich water flowing through subsurface drainage tiles are responsible for about 90 percent of the nitrate pollution in Iowa’s rivers and streams, according to findings of Iowa State University’s Iowa Nutrient Research Center.
“If the supervisors of Greene County would like to be the next county sued by the Des Moines Water Works, I think in combination with the prairie potholes and the Hickenbottoms, you’d be next on the list,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany was joined in opposition by Patti Edwardson of rural Churdan. Edwardson said the state’s current system of permitting CAFOs is unfair and unjust to neighbors, boards of supervisors and future generations of Iowans.
“We all know that the Iowa DNR has the final say,” she said Monday, “but if we don’t start saying ‘No’ now, nothing will change.”
Edwardson asked the supervisors to recall the 2008 comprehensive plan for Greene County. The plan noted a desire to draw more residents and more businesses to the county, to promote more economic and agricultural diversity, to encourage more outdoor recreation and to preserve and renew abandoned farmsteads.
“Each of these goals becomes further and further out of reach with each CAFO that comes to this county,” Edwardson said. Supervisors Muir and Guy Richardson were members of the board of supervisors in 2008.
Letters from near neighbors to the Granite Farms IV confinement — Jim Strautman, Chris Lohr and Adrienne Smith — were also read into the record. All three opposed the project.
John Sabus, who operates a Bristol Township CAFO for Iowa Select Farms, spoke in favor of the project, which he said would be “right in my backyard.” Sabus said the feed comes from Lidderdale and not Iowa Falls, as Tiffany claimed. He claimed hog manure, when it is applied correctly, is more stable than anhydrous ammonia.
Sabus said he rents farm ground from Granite Farms IV. He suggested the new CAFO be moved to G Avenue, around the corner from the proposed site.
“I think ‘out of sight, out of mind’ if it’s off the highway,” he said. “It’s still on their (Granite Farms IV) property.”
John McCormick, a Highland Township resident, also spoke in favor of the project. McCormick said he is proud “that Greene County feeds the world.” He talked about changes in farming methods and said CAFOs add to the county’s tax base and provide opportunities for young farmers.
McCormick said the steady stream of feed trucks on gravel roads promotes security and reduces suspicious activity in the largely vacant countryside. He estimated there would be 15 to 20 fewer families in Churdan if it were not for hog CAFOs.
Darrell Hunt, sales director at New Modern Concepts, said the local community would benefit from the one or two new jobs, the addition of $1.3 million to the county’s tax base, feed purchased in Lohrville and locally purchased propane and electricity.
The supervisors in February asked for trees to be planted at another CAFO operated by Iowa Select Farms, but their request was denied. The supervisors made a similar request for trees at the Felix Finisher site, but Hunt said trees would hinder the natural ventilation of the buildings.
Jen Sorenson, communications director for Iowa Select Farms, said that company would own and manage Felix Finisher Farm Site. The company already manages eight CAFOs in the county, and she said the company considers itself part of the local economy. She did not explain how Granite Farms IV and Iowa Select Farms are related.
“We’re very proud to be part of this county,” Sorenson said. “We operate very responsibly. We have a tremendous track record in terms of environmental stewardship, in terms of animal care, in terms of caring for our people and our surrounding communities as well.”
Bill Cloninger, who recently opened a dog boarding business one mile east of the proposed site, said the site would have a negative impact on his business. He said he and his wife are worried they will need to buy water for the dogs and that they will lose business if the dogs go home smelling like hogs.
Greene County currently contained 95 animal feeding operations, and 88 are hog confinements. Cloninger said there are already 17,000 head of swine within two miles of his home.
“When is enough enough?” he asked.
Lori Mannel, a neighbor of Cloninger, said the state is sacrificing the general welfare for the sake of private profits.
“Why are we looking at individual development at the risk of community development?” Mannel said. “We work very hard to develop our community. Our livelihood relies on agriculture. Our community relies on agriculture. But where’s the skin in the game for an organization from Hardin County? Build in Hardin County, but Hardin County is saturated. They continue to profit themselves and they harm others.”
Bruce Chaffee lives three-fourths of a mile from the site. He said he talked with all the neighbors, and everyone opposes the site. His neighbors told him he was wasting his time opposing it, but he said, “We shouldn’t roll over. Enough is enough.”
Rich Smith of Jefferson and Byron Paup of Bristol Township also spoke in opposition.
After nearly an hour of comment, Muir closed the public hearing. He said he would remain consistent with his previous votes on construction permits but noted the board’s letter to the DNR would include concerns about wells and water safety.
Supervisor Dawn Rudolph said she understands farming and that it has changed over the years. She noted that as rural populations decline, more room opens up for CAFOs.
“My question is, Granite Farms has a stake in this – where are they?” Rudolph said. “They’re not here today. I want to support our local farmers that live in this community and are our neighbors. Granite Farms is not our neighbor.”
Rudolph said the master matrix “is always the thing we go by because we have to have guidelines. That’s why there’s the matrix. Yes, they did make the points. The downfall is companies like this, when they (the DNR) deny it, they can put a 2,500-head unit here and a 2,500-head unit there, and then they expand it. That’s the downfall. You have to be careful what you wish for. My conscience is that we have to support our local people.”
Supervisor Mick Burkett said he was caught in the middle because one of his sons operates four CAFOs, and he can agree with both sides of the issue. He noted that the people who own the ground and farm the ground do not live in Greene County, but he said the supervisors’ hands are tied by the master matrix.
Supervisor Tom Contner said he’s “all for” local people building CAFOs and that he has nothing against Iowa Select, “but you’ve got an out-of-state owner of the ground wanting to build a hog confinement. I have a problem with out-of-state ownership.”
Supervisor Guy Richardson repeated what he has said several times about understanding the concerns of neighbors and the dedication of the operators in acting responsibly.
“The reason we use this process,” Richardson said, “is to allow people to come here and sit face to face with producers and voice their concerns and be able to have that back and forth. We have virtually no control over whether the DNR is going to approve this site.”
Conscious of their powerlessness, the supervisors prepared to cast their votes.
“After listening to everything, I have questions about whether this is great siting or not,” Richardson said. “There are questions that need to be looked at carefully. But until the legislature changes laws and gives local boards of supervisors the responsibility and the option of making decisions on siting, our hands are tied. We don’t have a lot of say in where these things go.”
Richardson also said he did not have enough information to make a decision without knowing if Tiffany’s information about a pothole and drainage is correct. The DNR will conduct a site visit Aug. 19. Muir suggested that Richardson vote against approval if he is concerned, a suggestion all the supervisors followed.
More CAFOs are in the pipeline for Greene County. The supervisors have scheduled two meetings for Thursday, Aug. 18 to review master matrices for JEMMB Pork Site in Section 28 of Highland Township, owned by Jill and Mitch Stream, and for Hardin Site in Section 23 of Bristol Township, owned by Travis and Lynn Hardin.
The Streams and Hardins are established Greene County residents and farmers.
Public hearings on the next two CAFOs are scheduled for Monday, Aug. 22 at 9 a.m. for the Streams’ confinement and at 9:30 a.m. for the Hardins’ confinement.
Victoria Riley is editor and publisher of the Greene County News Online.
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