No other choice: Supervisors approve hog confinement
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 3:48 PM
Members of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors said they have no valid reasons to not endorse plans to double the size of a hog confinement in northern Winneshiek County.
Monday morning, the Board unanimously recommended to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that Bill Yahnke’s application to build two new finisher barns at his Stateline Hogs facility located at 3854 258th. Ave. in Burr Oak Township be approved. The Holmen, Wis., man already has two confinement buildings at the site, and the expansion would increase the number of hogs there from 2,400 to 4,800.
“I don’t find grounds to object,” Supervisor Dean Thompson said. “I would like to see more filters on the exhaust and vegetative barriers, but that’s not something I have much say in.”
The DNR ultimately decides whether the project will advance.
Last week, the supervisors held a public hearing on the expansion proposal and heard comments both for and against the project. Thompson said one of those comments, made by Stateline Hogs Manager Regan McConnell, bothered him.
“This is an ag community. You’re going to have the smell. If you want tourism, you’ll have to go somewhere else,” McConnell said.
Thompson said supervisors have many interests to look after in the county.
“Agriculture is 18 percent of the economy. There are more parts to the economy than just that. It includes tourism and attracting and retaining people. I think that was an uninformed statement,” Thompson said.
The two new confinement buildings will each be 192 feet by 51 feet with 8-foot-deep concrete manure pits beneath them. The new buildings combined will hold an additional 2,400 head of swine. The project requires a DNR construction permit because it exceeds 1,000 animal units.
The project has received approval under the DNR’s master matrix formula, which grades livestock projects on the categories of air, water and community. The expansion proposal received a score of 460 and 440 points were needed to pass.
According to Yahnke’s application, the site is in compliance with the required separation distances and is not located in the flood plain.
An animal feeding operation siting atlas identified the area as “potential karst” – fractured limestone topography. Yahnke’s application said soil borings were conducted prior to initial construction in 2004 and additional borings were conducted in 2013 as part of planning for expansion at the site.
“In general, the soil borings were advanced to a depth of 20 feet below the existing surface and no bedrock was encountered,” the application for expansion said.
The estimated daily water consumption after the expansion at Stateline Hogs is less than 25,000 gallons per day, so an Iowa DNR water-use permit is not required, the application stated.
The supervisors recently approved a resolution petitioning Governor Terry Branstad and the Iowa Legislature to address the failings of the master matrix system and direct the DNR to suspend issuance of any additional confinement permits until new legislation is adopted. Board Chairman John Logsdon said state Representative Mike Bergan of Decorah has commented that won’t happen this year.
“He (Bergan) made it clear there is no appetite in the Legislature to even look at anything that might mildly transform the master matrix in any way, shape or form,” Logsdon said.
“We’re asked to make a decision on the criteria set up by the DNR. They made it perfectly clear their decision is gold and our recommendation not so much,” he said.
Logsdon said based on the DNR’s criteria, the Board has no other choice than to approve the project.
“This Board agrees there are still failings in the master matrix,” Supervisor John Beard said.
However, if all projects were as “carefully planned and as responsibly run” as Stateline Hogs, the Board would not have many concerns.
“Mr. Yahnke might not be the typical operator. We have to think about people who are not responsible. That’s why we have to restate we stand behind our resolution – the matrix does not work. Mr. Yahnke gave us a good plan that wasn’t determined by the structure of the matrix. He really wanted to operate in a certain way and that’s admirable,” Beard said.
Beard referred to a controversial hog confinement project in Allamakee County that couldn’t be stopped even though DNR Director Chuck Gipp said in an interview with the Cedar Raids Gazette that if the confinement could be put on the Allamakee County site near naturally reproducing trout streams, there is no place in Iowa one could not be built.
“If we have applications like that, we wouldn’t be able to prevent it,” Beard said of the current master matrix system.
Beard also commended Sanitarian Doug Groux for looking at water well tests that showed there is no reason for concern about pollution at Stateline Hogs.
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