Although they don't believe it will do any good, Winneshiek County Supervisors have recommended the Iowa Department of Natural Resources deny a permit for a proposed hog confinement expansion in the northern part of the county.
The Board unanimously approved a resolution Monday asking the DNR to use its discretionary power to turn down the request for a hog gestation and farrowing operation.
"The Winneshiek Board of Supervisors finds credible and reasonable cause to conclude that the applicant's expansion of confinement feeding operations poses increased threats to the health and safety of Winneshiek County's citizens, their property, natural resources and the environment," the resolution states.
Millenium Agriculture LLC, owned by Brad Herman of Waukon, plans to expand its current confinement animal feeding operation (CAFO) 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.
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' resolution also references the more than 100 public comments made through mail and e-mail expressing concerns about the adverse effects of the proposed expansion. In addition, last month during a public meeting, the supervisors heard numerous comments from citizens concerned about the detrimental impact the expansion would have on public health, water and air quality, public recreation, the environment, local property values and the "quiet enjoyment" of their property.
A DNR decision
During Monday's Board meeting, the supervisors discussed the reality of the situation.
"We're out of the picture. It's the sole discretion of the DNR whether they approve it or not," Supervisor Floyd Ashbacher said.
"The DNR will do what the DNR will do, that's No. 1, but the DNR also handles the liability end of this. How well? About as well as they do anything else," Board Chairman John Logsdon commented.
"We could recommend a ban on any CAFOs in Winneshiek County, but we'd get the same response we're going to get here."
Although he voted for the resolution, Supervisor Mark Kuhn said he was not "100 percent happy" with its wording.
"I don't know that it's proper for us to flat out deny it," he said, since Millenium's application was "within the rules."
Supervisor Dean Thompson disagreed.
"There were over 100 comments. I don't know if you read them all ... I don't think many were in favor of it. We represent the citizens," he said.
"We represent our county the best we can ... the feeling of the residents, the majority of them," said Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten, who lives near the proposed expansion site. "An investor from Texas? I don't care if he makes money or not ... of course it's right in my front yard and I'm certainly passionate about it."
Millenium Ag's three original buildings were built before the DNR required projects to be evaluated using its "master matrix," a scoring system used to evaluate the siting of CAFOs based on their impact on air, water and community. Since it was constructed before April 1, 2002 and is expanding to 1,666 animal units or less, it is exempt from completing the master matrix. However, Millenium will be required to update its manure management plan for an expanded operation.
Karlsbroten asked County Sanitarian Doug Groux, who regulates the Millenium facility. Groux said complaints are handled through the DNR's Manchester field office. Karlsbroten asked who counts the number of animals housed in CAFOs, and Groux said he didn't know.
Groux was asked about the topography of the area and how it would impact the design of a manure storage pit. The sanitarian said there would be "more stringent" requirements due to the karst geography at the site. A concrete manure storage pit has been proposed
Karlsbroten said the Millenium CAFOs are located near the headwaters of Middle Bear Creek and asked if there is a setback requirement for applying manure. Groux said he thought if the manure is applied, then injected or incorporated into the soil in the same day, it could probably be applied "right up to" the stream. DNR Environmental Specialist Tom McCarthy of the Manchester field office confirmed that is the case.
Middle Bear feeds into North Bear and runs "unimpeded" to the Upper Iowa River, Karlsbroten said.
The coldwater trout streams are "blue ribbon water," Thompson commented.
Logsdon said water samples should be taken from the stream to determine a "benchmark" for the water quality.
"We need to know the history to know where we're at today," he said.
Steve McCargar of rural Decorah thanked the Board for their vote. He also suggested the supervisors ask DNR representatives to conduct a hearing in Decorah on the confinement expansion application.
"I think the DNR should be pressured from our end to listen to what the public has to say about this," he said.
If the DNR doesn't follow the supervisors' request to deny the application, Bob Watson of rural Decorah said the supervisors have recourse through the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, a panel of nine, governor-appointed citizens who provide policy oversight for Iowa's environmental protection efforts.
"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,"