A bill that’s under review at the statehouse would require more public input before livestock confinements may be built on Iowa farms. Under current law, county supervisors can review construction applications and forward their opinions to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, but those county officials have no authority to reject a livestock farmer’s permit.
Representative Marcie Frevert, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, is pushing a bill that would require a public hearing in the county where a new livestock confinement is proposed. "No one is, at this point, required to have a public hearing. That is current law," Frevert says. "This would change it to say that there shall be a public hearing."
Environmental groups favor public hearings. Jerry Peckham, a farmer in Greene County, heads a group called Iowa Rivers Revival. "There’s a great deal of frustration in our area of Greene County with the feeling that people have very little input on how facilities are sited and whether they should be built," Peckham says. "The Raccoon River that I’m very interested in is polluted a lot of times with manure."
But county officials aren’t wild about the bill. Nate Bonnett of the Iowa Association of Counties says it’s unfair to put supervisors out before the firing squad in a public hearing. "Supervisors are going to be going out on a limb with these hearings and quite frankly receive a lot of negative input from citizens a lot of times and really it’s out of their control of whether the confinement’s going to go up or not," Bonnett says. "We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we have to have a hearing and get beat up by the public over something that we have no control over stopping."
But legislators like Frevert who back the bill have very little sympathy for that argument. Frevert says if she and other lawmakers in Des Moines have to hear the complaints about hog lots, then so should county supervisors. "You know, they make as much as I do and they get to sleep in their own bed at night," Frevert says. "It’s my job to listen and it’s their job to listen."
Potential critics of the bill attended a statehouse hearing on the legislation, but representatives of the Farm Bureau and an agribusiness association declined to publicly comment on the bill. Some large hog producers have gone public with their opposition to the legislation.