Board of Supervisors Chairman John Logsdon expected it.

An official with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently informed county officials the agency would not deny Millenium Agriculture's application to expand its hog confinement operation in Highland Township in northern Winneshiek County.

"I'm not surprised," Logsdon told Decorah Newspapers Tuesday afternoon.

He said supervisors would discuss the DNR's decision and a possible appeal to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) during the supervisors' meeting Tuesday, Sept. 3. The EPC is a panel of nine, governor-appointed citizens who provide policy oversight for Iowa's environmental protection efforts.

"Personally, I don't think the DNR will reverse their position for any reason. They never have," Logsdon said.

Millenium Agriculture LLC, owned by Brad Herman of Waukon, plans to expand its current confinement animal feeding operation (CAFO) 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.

Board resolution

Earlier this month, county supervisors approved a resolution asking the DNR to use its discretionary power to turn down the permit. The supervisors' resolution said the expansion "poses increased threats to the health and safety of Winneshiek County's citizens, their property, natural resources and the environment."

The Board's resolution notes the expansion is located in karst terrain in the Bear Creek Watershed, "a coldwater trout fishery of national renown." Karst or fractured-limestone topography is vulnerable to groundwater pollution due to the relatively rapid rate of water flow and the lack of a natural filtration system. The supervisors heard comments from more than 100 citizens concerned about the adverse effect of the proposed expansion.

In an email sent Monday to Supervisor Dean Thompson, Randy Clark, an attorney with the DNR's Legal Services Bureau, wrote to deny a construction permit, Iowa Code requires the DNR director to determine manure from the operation would cause water pollution, would cause a violation of state water quality standards, and that an adverse effect on natural resources or the environment will occur in a specific area due to the concentration of animal feeding operations and the area where manure will be applied.

"The DNR has conducted an evaluation, and the director has determined that none of the foregoing impacts are reasonably expected to result from the proposed expansion. In general, the existing operation has not caused water quality or other environmental/natural resource impacts, and the DNR doesn't anticipate otherwise from the proposed expansion," Clark wrote.

"Because of the karst terrain, the DNR's reviewing engineer requested additional information from the applicant to assure compliance with karst-terrain requirements, and the DNR environmental specialist reviewing the manure management plan has indicated the plan satisfies DNR requirements. Therefore, the DNR will not deny the construction permit."

Bob Watson of rural Decorah told the supervisors at its meeting earlier this month if the DNR doesn't follow the Board's recommendation, it has recourse through the EPC.

"The EPC can use its discretionary rules to overrule the DNR, even if all the permits have been met and all the legalities have been met," Watson said.

Against local control

Logsdon said the DNR doesn't want local officials to have power over the location of animal confinements because it could lead to 99 different policies in the state's 99 counties.

"If the county had the siting privileges, certain liability would be involved," he added.

"In a perfect world, an unbiased, non-political committee of individuals would work on the siting (of confinements). Not the DNR, not the county supervisors. An independent commission," Logsdon said.