Residents of northwest Marshall County met this week to discuss plans by Premium Select to build three large hog confinement buildings northwest of State Center. They’d be near the town of Clemons, where Eileen Witt lives. She says residents aren’t opposed to farming, but they don’t want it to change their ecosystem. She says hog producers in the area, like the region’s cattle and sheep farmers and other producers, have protected the pristine Minerva Valley area for 150 years.
Iowa Select is located in Iowa Falls, more than 25 miles away. Witt says residents in the nearby towns of Clemons and Minerva are concerned about odor, manure spills, and the risk of water pollution. “That’s not responsible farming,” Witt says. “That’s not protecting our eco-system. That’s not protecting the pristine valley that we have. And I think they’re aware of this because they’re not putting it in their own backyards.” She says more than 100 people attended this week’s meeting bringing questions for the Department of Natural Resources, the agency that might regulate a new hog farm.
They wanted to ask “why the DNR’s hands are tied on this,” and how they can send the message that the plan won’t be tolerated in that community. A DNR representative was at the meeting to tell the local residents how the permitting process works, and Wayne Gieselman says he didn’t have much to say that pleased the group. He’s Division Administrator for Environmental Services with the Department of Natural Resources.
What he explained was just how the DNR reviews manure-management plans, and what the state’s “master matrix” is for evaluating environmental impact and how Marshall county fits into that. He also told the unhappy neighbors that such facilities don’t require construction permits from the D-N-R, so they can go ahead and build subject to a 30-day waiting period and the approval of their manure-management plan. The plan by Select Farms met all the criteria the agency requires.
The management plans are done and passed review by the department, so Gieselman says they can start building the confinements on November first. He says neighbors don’t have much legal recourse in cases like this one. Under the law, the neighbors have no legal standing, he says. He ventures a guess that residents are planning to try calling and writing letters to the builders, and also to the sellers of the land to try and convince them not to let their land go to a builder of big confinements. Witt, the spokeswoman for some local residents, agrees that’s what many are considering.
Legally, there is not a lot that can be done. She says if the brothers who own the land go through with selling it to Premium Select, all neighbors can do is appeal to them not to do it. Witt says residents will write letters and make phone calls asking that the confinements not be built, and in the long run a group will also contact lawmakers and try to get some change to the law on regulation of large animal confinement facilities.
“We don’t see anything that violates the law,” says the DNR man. Gieselman sympathizes: “I understand the concerns the folks have. Minerva Creek is a lovely stream valley that runs near their properties. But until they actually have an impact on the creek there is not anything the department can do about that.”
The opponents have also sent a delegation to the Marshall County Board of Supervisors meeting this month. Also at this week’s meeting were representatives from Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Network for Local Control, Iowa Farmers Union, State Representative Polly Granzow and her challenger Tim Hoy.
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