The objections of Union County landowners and residents ultimately made no difference to the approval of the master matrix submitted by Iowa Select Farms and Clone 337 Farm to build a two-barn, 5,000-head hog confinement on Kingfisher Avenue in section 35 of Highland Township.
During a public hearing Monday at the Union County Courthouse, the Union County Board of Supervisors listened to public comment for and against building a hog confinement.
Neighbors to the proposed site object to the placement of a hog confinement due to issues they have previously experienced with odors, flies, lack of care regarding tile lines and noncompliance with Department of Natural Resource regulations.
Vernon Long, a 70-plus-year resident of Union County and nearby landowner, said he has seen other hog houses where the manure has not been properly contained.
“They say it’s not supposed to happen,” Long said. “But I’ve seen the hog houses, another hog house there to the south ... It would just openly flow across my fields, day after day. It went on for over a week. Called the DNR every day, and they finally sent someone down. He said, ‘Yeah, it’s overflowing.’ There wasn’t nothing he could do.”
Long also objected to the heavy traffic from such sites which tear up the gravel roads.
Paul Longfellow asked who will pay for the extra gravel needed and the dust control from the heavy trucks, explaining his objection to the fact that farmers get their taxes raised to pay for gravel.
Darren Long, who owns a commercial site and lives nearby, questioned the ISF representatives about their manure application plans, including what happens when they run out of farm land to spread the manure and whether they will consider additional setbacks from his farm and business. The required setback for injected manure is zero feet.
“When this hog manure gets in the wrong hands, they just don’t care,” Darren Long said.
Jennifer Crall, director of public affairs for ISF, stated there is a team of nine nutrient management specialists who determine the appropriate amount of application based on the crop yields from the year before and soil samples from the fields.
Luke Baker, in environmental services for ISF, said it was his job to find more ground to use the manure.
“I truck it farther,” Baker said. “You have to spend more money to truck it farther. That’s all you can do.”
When asked if he would just spread more manure on the surrounding land to use up the excess, Baker replied, “I can’t do that.”
Crall told Darren Long the company would be happy to have a conversation with him about setbacks.
Mike Tate, a Union County native who has worked for ISF for 20 years, spoke of his work with ISF, calling it a career — not just a job.
He said, “I feel like they’ve done the right thing, not just by people, but by the environment and supporting the community’s local food drives by donating pork loins.”
Julie Crouch, another long-time ISF employee, spoke of other community programs.
“Since 2016 the foundation has donated over 800 pork loins to the food pantries in Union County,” Crouch said. “ In October, the foundation will be distributing coupons to students within our school systems here in Creston and East Union. These coupons are for a free pound of ham and a free loaf of bread. Each student on a free and reduced lunch program in Creston and East Union middle and elementary schools get four sets of those coupons.”
Dave Jungmann — who represents Dale Eklund, a nearby landowner — spoke about drainage concerns. Eklund has an easement for tile lines that would be affected by the construction.
John Andersen, business development for ISF stated that ISF has already provided Eklund with written assurances to maintain the integrity of the tile lines during construction. He said they have altered their proposed plans to move a driveway which would have caused damage to the tile lines. He agreed to Jungmann’s request that Eklund be allowed to observe the process of cutting into and connecting to the tile line.
Andersen referred questions about Clone Farms bonding and assets to Mike Blazer, the company’s attorney, who was not present.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides a scoring mechanism for county boards to approve or disapprove confined feeding operations.
According to the DNR website:
The master matrix is a scoring system that can be used to evaluate the siting of permitted confinement feeding operations. Counties that have adopted a construction evaluation resolution can use the master matrix. Counties must re-adopt the construction evaluation resolution annually between January 1 and January 31, starting in 2004, to continue to use the master matrix.
Each of the 44 criteria on the matrix has an assigned point value with additional scoring for air and water quality and community impacts. To be approved the application must score 440 or more out of 880 points with at least 53 points for air quality, 67 points for water quality and 101 points for community impact.
The Clone 337 Farm scored 445 overall with a community impact score of 188.
Supervisor Rick Friday noted that ISF scored zero on 24 of the 44 categories.
Friday questioned why the ISF team members scored themselves at zero for utilization of landscaping when they have indicated there will be trees and bushes on the property.
Crall said the matrix requires three rows of trees to have a score in that area.
"There’s two things there," Crall said. "The first is we have enough points to pass without the trees and the second is to take the points for the trees as far as the rules for the master matrix it has to be three lines of trees on three sides. Working with the coalition, they said the single line of arborvitae is more than sufficient to meet the odor reduction that we were looking for."
Other areas where ISF scored zero were in the adoption of an environmental management system recognized by the DNR, adoption and implementation of a comprehensive nutrient management plan, the installation of groundwater monitoring wells, and not having a history of an environmental or worker protection violation for the last five years in the facilities where they have an interest.
Clone Farm received high scores for its separation distance from public use areas, distance from high quality water sources, having a covered liquid manure storage facility, planning to inject or incorporate manure on the same day it is applied to land, and having a dedicated truck turn around area.
The Union County Board of Supervisors members explained the board’s role in approving or disapproving the hog confinement.
“We take an oath to obey the statutes of the state of Iowa and to the best of our ability that’s what we are doing,” Supervisor Chair Dennis Brown said.
“There’s no place on the master matrix for your opinion; it’s pretty much cut and dried,” Supervisor Rick Friday said. “ We did the best we could as far as scoring it. ... There’s really not much we can do except for score it to the best of our ability.”
“This is what we have to go by when they send their construction permit to us,” Supervisor Ron Riley said. “We just abide by the state law, the state of Iowa ... We score them on each question’s merit.”
Riley said the board could not change the scores without justifying it.
“If we take points away that actually they earned the we would be (getting) calls from attorneys,” Riley said. “If they passed, they passed.”
The board voted to pass the master matrix with a unanimous vote.