Members of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors believe there is a basis to appeal the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) preliminary approval of a hog confinement expansion in the northern part of the county.
On Tuesday, the Board unanimously agreed to appeal to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) the DNR's decision granting Millennium Agriculture LLC a construction permit. The EPC is a panel of nine, governor-appointed citizens who provide policy oversight for Iowa's environmental protection efforts.
Millennium plans to expand its current confinement animal feeding operation (CAFO) located in Highland Township from three to five buildings, increasing the animal unit capacity (AUC) housed there from 1,111 to 1,666, which equates to a total of 4,165 swine. For swine weighing more than 55 pounds, the DNR multiplies the number of head by 0.4 to determine the AUC.
Brad Herman of Waukon is the general manager of Waukon Feed Ranch. Herman said Waukon Feed Ranch is the managing entity for Millennium Ag, which is owned by several stockholders. The Feed Ranch currently provides the feed for the hogs at the facility.
Although the permit application for the expansion has met the DNR's requirements, Supervisor Dean Thompson said the Board has the right to appeal when it believes the karst terrain, or fractured limestone topography, and trout streams in the vicinity of the project could be impacted.
Last month, the supervisors voted unanimously to recommend the DNR deny the permit, but last week the DNR approved it.
Thompson said Millennium Ag would have been required to be evaluated under the state's master matrix, if it had been built after 2002. But since its original buildings were constructed in 1998, before the state adopted the requirement, the facility has been "grandfathered through."
Thompson said 1,000 "animal units" normally trigger a review under the master matrix. "Now you've proposed to go over 4,100 head of swine, all without the master matrix review process," a scoring system used to evaluate the siting of CAFOs based on their impact on air, water and community.
"For that reason, and based on our findings -- it's in karst terrain and above a premier watershed for trout fishing -- this should not go forward," he said.
Herman said the expansion proposal has met all the DNR's criteria and that the Board needs to provide "legal reasons" for the project to be denied.
Thompson responded Iowa Code gives counties the power to appeal a permit the DNR has approved.
Millennium's Engineer, John Crawford of Crawford Engineering in Independence, said if there is karst terrain, special construction practices would be followed, such as installing a two-foot clay layer between the bedrock and the manure containment structure.
Supervisor Mark Kuhn asked how manure would be applied since karst topography has a "different filtration system than other soil types."
Kuhn said he lives in a karst area, and once allowed manure from a neighbor's pit to be applied to his land as a fertilizer.
A month later, he said his home's water, which comes from a spring, began to smell. Kuhn said he had it sampled and it tested high for coliform bacteria and nitrates.
"We did not apply it (the manure) at a high rate and it took about nine months for that water to become clean again. I had good water before," he said.
Kuhn noted his case is an extreme example since his water source is a spring.
Crawford again referred to special procedures for construction of the facility, including soil borings, but did not address manure application
"That's part of the confinement operation too (applying manure). Containment (of manure) is one thing, spreading it is another," Kuhn said.
Herman was asked how many acres are available to spread the manure from Millennium Ag.
Troy Peterson of Waukon, who develops manure management plans for Waukon Feed Ranch, Millennium Ag and others, said it currently has 500 acres, and with the expansion will have 800 acres.
"We have another 1,000 acres if we really need it," Peterson said.
"We're regulated," Herman said. "We have a nutrient management program, and there are multiple farmers who do not have nutrient management plans for land much closer to the Bear Creek Watershed. We're more regulated than anyone in that whole watershed. I'm not following why this (Millennium Ag expansion) is more of an issue." "We're talking about concentration. It would be nice if we were talking about manure, but we're not. This waste sits in a pit for six months to a year cooking," said rural Decorah resident Bob Watson, an environmental activist who works in the wastewater industry.
"Hydrogen-sulfide, ammonia, methane and particulates are blown out into the neighborhood 24/7. You're not applying manure, but a toxic sewage waste with 130 toxic compounds. Confinement waste is five times stronger than raw human sewage. It's like taking the waste from a town of 20,000 people, letting it cook and become toxic and putting it on the land," he said.
During presentations he gives, Watson said he uses 177 studies, "a tip of the iceberg," that show confinements are a "sewer environment" which create health problems, including higher rates of asthma.
After the Board meeting, Herman said he wasn't expecting the supervisors would vote to appeal the DNR decision.
"I was surprised that it was pretty cut and dried," he said.