A funny thing happened at the public meeting to consider the expansion of a hog operation in eastern Johnson County near West Branch. The operator withdrew his request for a permit.
Residents had been expressing their concerns because of quality-of-life conflicts they see coming if an existing large farm operation is permitted to create a second 2,500-head hog confinement, expanding the operation to nearly 4,900 hogs at that location.
Iowa law has always been most friendly to those who want to locate and operate Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), rather than to the people who live near them. The state has largely limited county authority over the siting of these operations to just comments, and then only if a proposed confinement is large enough and does not meet enough specific standards for protecting soil, water and air cited in what is termed the Master Matrix.
As a 2008 IPP report showed, the current CAFO permitting process allows scant protection from spreading manure near drinking water sources — in a Dallas County case, near an already impaired river. Even worse as pointed out by Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig at the hearing, if this operator chooses to move his second planned building by a thousand feet, he would not be required to even ask for a permit.
The Master Matrix process is in its second decade and its deficiencies have not been corrected. Even operating normally, CAFOs can create significant water-quality and air quality problems — and when there are spills, as is historically the case, fish kills are one of the impacts.
As our 2008 report recommended, Iowa law should include:
- Stronger minimum requirements for approval of new construction permits and manure management plans;
- Real local decision-making authority by allowing counties to set rules to protect air and water quality, public health and community well-being; and
- Requiring construction permits for smaller facilities — for hogs, half of the current requirement of permits for operations with 2,500 hogs or more.
Most in attendance cheered when, at the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that the request for a permit was withdrawn. However, it might still be built if moved less than a quarter mile. The state needs to change the law to allow for real local control over hog operations.