The site of a proposed new 7,499-head hog confinement in Lincoln Township is prone to flooding.
For that and numerous other reasons, neighbors are adamantly opposed to the project.
The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors also found flaws in the manure management plan accompanying the confinement application submitted by Reicks View Farms and voted unanimously following a public hearing Monday to recommend the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which has the final say on the project, deny the permit.
But Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors Chair John Logsdon isn’t optimistic the Board’s opinion will hold much weight with the DNR.
“I’m not hopeful. We went through this when we disapproved Millennium Ag last year. It just doesn’t seem to matter,” he said.
A group of Winneshiek County residents feels the same way and is circulating a petition calling for changes in the state’s regulations of confinements.
“We don’t trust the DNR to do the right thing. It’s only our air and soil and water resources being degraded. You’d think the DNR would be up in arms, but they’re really just a waving gate,” said Steve McCargar of rural Decorah.
In 2013, supervisors recommended denial of Millennium Agriculture’s permit for a hog gestation and farrowing operation in Highland Township, north of Decorah, but the permit was approved by the DNR and upheld by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission after the supervisors appealed the DNR decision.
On Monday, McCargar was helping circulate a petition that was submitted to the supervisors and included with the Board’s recommendation on the Reicks View application that will be forwarded to the DNR. The petition calls for the Legislature to adopt and enforce the Federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts for all sources of pollution, authority for both the state and county departments of public health to declare a public health emergency if confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) exceed regulatory limits, an amendment to the Iowa Constitution enabling cities and counties to ban CAFOs within their jurisdictions or the prohibition of the construction and permitting of new CAFOs with more than 10 animals.
“We’re going to have to take our concerns to Des Moines independent of the Board of Supervisors. People will be going to the DNR and making the case for reinforcing the supervisors concerns expressed yesterday and letting the DNR and the EPC know that citizens are not in favor of this scale of animal production,” McCargar said Tuesday.
He added the petition would be made available to other Iowa counties.
Reicks View Farms of Lawler, under the corporate name Goldbrook LLC, is proposing an entirely new facility -- a 161 by 424 foot confinement barn in Lincoln Township with an 8-foot deep storage pit located beneath its concrete slat floor. It would be located on 240th
Street, four miles west of Ridgeway. After construction, it would house 7,499 head of swine. Michael Blaser of Des Moines is listed as the registered agent for Goldbrook on the secretary of state’s website but Reicks View Farms will actually be managing the site.
The proposed site is about two miles south of Cardinal Marsh, a state wildlife area. Neighbor Jerry Rinken, who lives a mile north of the proposed confinement, said he sees the marsh utilized by birdwatchers, walkers, fishermen, horseback riders and hunters throughout the year. The smell of the confinement would ruin the marsh, which was built in 1958, according to Rinken.
“The DNR has done a damn good job taking care of it (Cardinal Marsh). This (confinement) is going to destroy it. Why are they going to do it? Five years ago, if you told me 7,500 hogs would be located a mile from Cardinal Marsh, I would have told you you’re crazy, it’s never going to happen,” Rinken said.
Another neighboring property owner, Jed Becker of rural Cresco, said Otter Creek frequently floods on land near the proposed confinement identified for manure application.
“It’s not a one-time occurrence. It happened this spring,” said Becker, who provided a photo of the area under floodwater.
Becker said he estimates about 25-30 percent of the proposed confinement site was underwater at the time.
“It’s very flat topography … what concerns me, if you put manure on there and get a high water event, you’re going to move a lot of manure down stream. I don’t think that land should be approved for manure,” he said.
Connie Hanson, who also lives near the proposed building site, said she couldn’t leave her property after the flooding of 2008. If the confinement is built, she said it would be flooded because it’s in a wetland.
“The manure pits won’t be foolproof when that snow melts and that place is flooded. Manure will be everywhere and will back up into the creek,” she said.
Mark Kipp was the only person speaking on behalf of Reicks View. He said he was representing Jericho Construction, a Reicks company that does general contracting on new construction projects. He said the confinement would be completely covered so that no rain will enter the manure pit.
“The DNR won’t place them (pits) within a flood plain – they do have criteria for determining if flooding is an issue,” he said.
Winneshiek Geographic Information System Coordinator Jon Lubke showed a slide highlighting the site’s location on the county’s digital flood insurance rate map. The map was developed by FEMA and is not officially certified for Winneshiek County, Lubke said after the meeting. It represents the potential of an area to flood and seems to mirror what happens in severe flooding events like 2008, he said.
Kipp also said the confinement site is engineered so there are proper slopes around the site. In addition, he said Reicks View Farms’ practices for injecting manure into the soil “are the best in the industry.” He also said Reicks View has agreed to surround the confinement building with three row of trees to help mitigate any odor.
One speaker said after Reicks took over the farm where the confinement is proposed, all the habitat was cleared to the edge of Otter Creek.
“Now they’re going to knife manure into the land right up to that creek – don’t tell me it won’t go downstream. They destroyed all the wildlife habitat. This outfit doesn’t care a damn about anybody downstream – they’re going to do whatever they want,” the speaker said.
Dean Wiedeman, who lives south of the proposed site, said due to the hydrologic soils and high water table on his land, the Natural Resource Conservation Service informed him he would lose his farm program benefits if he tiled his land.
He said Reicks View channelized the creek, spreading out its bank and installed tile through the hydrologic soils. Wiedeman said when he filed a complaint with the NRCS, he was informed Reicks View Farms had never contacted the agency.
“I seriously do not trust the integrity of this group (Reicks View) to do the things they say they are going to do, or to work with government agencies to protect the people around them,” Wiedeman said.
Wayne Mlady told the supervisors he farmed the hog confinement site for 18 years before it was acquired by Reicks View. He said the proposed confinement site is on a “sand hill.”
“It’s a pretty sensitive farm. When I heard they were proposing a building of that magnitude on this farm, I said ‘really?’ You’ve got bridge problems on both sides and the only choice (for hauling manure)” is through Ridgeway,” he said.
After the public hearing closed, Supervisor Mark Kuhn said he didn’t realize the flooding issues were quite as extensive as the neighbors described.
The manure management plan is “extremely flawed,” he said. The land in the manure management plan is located between two embargoed bridges.
“That piece is landlocked. The only way to have manure applied is by hose,” Kuhn said, explaining that would involve crossing Otter Creek three times.
But Reicks doesn’t typically like to pump manure over more than three miles, Kuhn said.
Reicks View included land north of Ridgeway in its manure management plan, but the property is already included in another manure management plan, Kuhn added.
“That’s totally unacceptable,” he said.
Kuhn said he’d received several comments from constituents expressing their concerns about the presence of sinkholes and wetlands in the vicinity of the proposed confinement.
After Monday’s public hearing, Logsdon said citizens with concerns about animal confinements need to contact their state legislators.
“People have to understand the restrictions the supervisors work under … if anybody thinks we have a whole lot of influence with the DNR on these large livestock confinement projects, we do not,” he said.