Hog farm debate packs supervisors meeting

By Chris Steinbach · Monday, August 13, 2012
Unable to do little more than listen, members of the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors found themselves in the middle of an ongoing debate about hog farms on Monday in Muscatine.

About 50 people packed into the board’s meeting room at the County Administration Building in Muscatine to debate the merits of a possible hog-confinement operation that Oakville farmer Tom Lacina would operate for TriOak Foods of Oakville. The 1,800-head operation would be built on -– and would supply manure to be used as fertilizer for –- farmland owned by Billie Danner in the Bay Circle area northwest of Nichols.

Neither Lacina nor Danner, or anyone from TriOak, spoke at the meeting. Muscatine County hog farmers Shaun Chaffee, Mike Deahr, Tim Maxwell and David Scott, however, defended the proposed facility and their industry, which, Deahr said, is plagued by inaccurate perceptions.

It would be a bad business decision, Deahr said, to risk millions of dollars in investment by offending neighbors. He runs hog-confinement operations near Muscatine, West Liberty, Atalissa and Nichols. None of his neighbors have ever complained, he said.

But opponent Hank Priest of Nichols said he isn’t trying to attack the proposed facility. “We just don’t want it where they want it,” he said. “I’m not here to drive anyone out of business.”

Priest has been helping with a petition drive in the Nichols-area to gather signatures of residents who opposed the proposed hog operation. Some 60 people have signed the petitions, which will be presented to the board next week, Priest said.

The people of Nichols have spoken, he said. “We’d like our concerns addressed.”

Opponent Lynn Pruitt of Nichols said there are 53 hog-confinement buildings in Muscatine County, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. And more than 20 of them are in the western part of the county, according to Nichols-area residents.

“It seems like it’s getting pretty well saturated,” said Dale Dropek of Nichols.

Board members voiced differing opinions on the issue of hog farms and how to regulate them.

Supervisor Bob Howard of Muscatine said the board should be proactive and work with municipalities in the county to address this type of zoning issue. It’s best to make these decisions at the local level instead of leaving it up to the DNR, he said.

But Supervisor Dave Watkins, a farmer from Moscow, said the board shouldn’t make changes that will make it more difficult for young people to get into livestock production, which he called the best way to get started in agriculture.

“At what time are we going to protect agriculture,” he asked.

But because the proposed facility would raise fewer than 2,500 hogs annually and due to existing state laws, there is not much anyone can do to stop the proposal.

“We don’t have the power to do anything,” said Board Chairwoman Kas Kelly.

Pruitt, who opposes the proposed facility, said the DNR would only investigate it if there are complaints.

“I don’t know if you are aware of the way this works,” he said. He said the facility’s owners would be able to change their manure-management plan whenever they want and would only have to annually report changes to the DNR.

“The rates they actually (would) apply (manure into the ground) is private information,” Pruitt said.

Supervisor Tom Furlong, who farms near Letts, said there are 12 hog-confinements within two miles of his home. “I do know they smell,” he said. “The rates they are applying (manure) is probably excessive.”

But hog producers at the meeting said that is an incorrect assumption because the manure is a valuable commodity just like other fertilizers.

“You don’t want to waste it,” Scott said.

He also said the hog-confinement critics underestimate the power of the DNR. “You are in fear of the DNR all of the time.”

Added Deahr:  “We fear them like Germany must have feared the Gestapo.”
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