Webster County approves hog confinements

Three new hog barns at existing hog confinement sites were approved by the Webster County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The board’s recommendation will go to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which must also make a decision.

A neighbor spoke against the barns, citing the smell at his home, while others spoke in favor of the expansion.

The barns will be 2,480-head deep-pit swine finisher barns, at existing facilities owned by Michael Pearson. They are located on 260th Street east of Webster County Road P33 and north of Callender; at the corner of 320th Street and Johnson Avenue, southeast of Callender; and on Johnson Avenue south of Iowa Highway 175, west of Harcourt.

William Bahr wrote a letter to the board, and spoke at the meeting saying there are too many hog confinements in that area.

“There are six CAFOs within 3 1/2 miles of my house,” he said, referring to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. “We experience a foul odor at least once a week, and as much as two or three times a week.”

Bahr lives near the 260th Street location. He said there are three confinements within a one-by-two-mile area near his home, or 1.5 confinements per square mile. If this ratio was applied across Webster County’s 715 square miles, there would be 1,072 hog confinements in the county, he said.

There are 27 permitted confinements in Webster County, according to DNR Environmental Specialist Trent Lambert. Only confinements with 1,000 or more animals are required to be permitted, he said.

There are 16 facilities with 500 to 1,000 animals (which need a manure management plan but no permit), and 10 small feeding operations with under 500 animals, he said; for a total of 53 facilities.

There are no rules about maximum facilities per square mile, he said, but if two feeding operations are built within 1,250 feet of each other they must be treated as one facility.

“I just object to things getting bigger all the time without any attention being paid to how do you clean it up a little bit first,” Bahr said.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Sheilah Lizer said she examined the sites with representatives from the DNR, and all of them exceed the minimum distance requirements in place by the DNR’s Master Matrix scoring system.

That matrix provides a score for sites based on their distance from houses, water supplies, and other public use areas, said Becky Sexton, with Twin Lakes Environmental Services. She works with small farmers on environmental issues.

Sexton said Pearson uses pit additives which greatly reduce the smell, and his farms are very clean and low-odor compared to some of her other clients.

There are no plans to use bio-filters, which sit next to the fans that move air, Sexton said, because in recent years they are no longer effective.

She said the change may be connected to a new kind of feed that has become popular, dried distillers grains, but no one knows for sure and studies are ongoing on the issue. She also said work is being done to find new ways to make bio-filters work.

A letter of support was written by John Field, a neighbor who owns pigs in Hardin County.

Pearson has two barns located 3/4 of a mile south of Field’s home, Field wrote.

“I have only noticed odor from them about four or five days in two years, and two barns don’t necessarily smell more than one barn,” he wrote. “The separation distance the law requires seems to work.”

Pearson said a second building is needed to make the locations economically feasible. They require a significant amount of investment as far as drives, electricity and wells, he said.

“I feed for Cargill,” he said. “They have another set of rules on top of the DNR. … You have to stay as clean as you possibly can in a dirty business.”

Supervisor Mark Campbell asked for a timeline when trees could be planted at the site.

Pearson said he will not be able to plant trees right away. He wants to plant them after about a year, once the grass is planted and the site is established, though he said he has not promised anything.

“We can’t force you to do that, but we sure would like it,” Supervisor Keith Dencklau said.

Supervisor Clark Fletcher said the agricultural community has improved its treatment of the environment.

“I remember as a boy playing in the rivers and streams here in Iowa,” Fletcher said, “and it was not uncommon at all for dead carcasses to be floating down the streams, and the odors that would come from our rivers and streams that are not there today.”