Neighbors may sue hog confinement owners
BATAVIA – A Fairfield attorney representing about 70 people near Batavia said a lawsuit is highly likely against the owners of hog confinement buildings being constructed near the town.
Attorney David Sykes said the group of neighbors will probably sue Valley View Swine once the hog confinement buildings are built and operational. Valley View Swine is run by Nick Adam and his sons, Jeff and Shawn Adam, of Batavia.
Valley View Swine plans to build hog confinement buildings at two sites near Batavia and put just under 5,000 hogs at each site.
Site 1 is 2 miles south of Batavia on the Wapello County side of the Wapello-Jefferson Road. Site 2 is about 4 miles from both Eldon and Batavia near the intersection of Washington Road and 45th Street, also in Wapello County.
The manure pit for Site 1 was poured in late April. At that time, Shawn Adam said he expected all four buildings at the two sites to be finished by August.
Sykes said the neighbors plan to sue Valley View Swine once they can establish the hog confinements have created a nuisance. This means they must wait until the hog confinement buildings are built before they file suit.
“People are aware of problems with CAFOs [Confined Animal Feeding Operations] such as the particulates in the air, the odor and the effects on quality of life,” he said. “Once the buildings are up, and in the opinion of our group and counsel we feel they are causing the nuisance we anticipate they will, then the lawsuit will be filed.”
Sykes said he is aware Valley View Swine’s building permit was approved by the Department of Natural Resources. He said his clients can still sue Valley View Swine for damages on the grounds it’s creating a nuisance to the neighbors.
“In my experience, neighbors will talk about the odor, health issues and their inability to sell their home and how home values decrease when they get appraisals,” he said. “They will talk about the general interference with their quality of life, their inability to take a walk or have friends over for a barbecue. A lot of factors go into this. It’s not a precise science.”
Sykes said if the group of about 70 neighbors goes through with its lawsuit, the members will file suit individually and not as part of a group. He said it will not be a class-action lawsuit.
Sykes will not be the only attorney representing the group, or even the lead attorney. Charlie Speer of Speer Law Firm in Kansas City, Mo. will take the lead on the case. He and Sykes will be assisted by a third attorney, Richard Middleton of The Middleton Firm in Savannah, Ga.
Sykes said he sent a letter to the Adams’ attorney April 2 requesting the Adams reconsider their plan to build the hog confinements near Batavia.
Attorney Bill Roemerman of Cedar Rapids represents Valley View Swine. He received and responded to Sykes’ April 2 letter. He wrote to Sykes to ask him the names of the clients Sykes is representing.
“I wrote back to the effect that we were happy to meet, but we want to know who we’re meeting with,” Roemerman said. “I never got a response. I also asked him, ‘What is your cause of action?’ I asked him what he would sue us for, and he hasn’t responded to that.”
Speer said he has also exchanged letters with Roemerman. He said he plans to send Roemerman a list of the clients soon who might sue Valley View Swine. He said he was not ready to make their names public during an interview today because he had not obtained their consent to make their names public.
Roemerman said he received a letter from Speer asking him not to talk with Speer’s clients but rather with Speer directly. Roemerman said he wrote back to inform Speer he didn’t even know who his clients were but he wanted to know to avoid any incidental contact with them.
“I think they’re just trying to drum up contributions,” Roemerman said. “These people keep making noises like we’re trying to resolve this. As near as I can tell, they’re not. Some people are going to make money off this lawsuit.”
The reasons Sykes mentioned for becoming involved in the case were his concern for the close proximity of Site 1 to Batavia – 2 miles – and the close proximity of Site 2 to a historic church and to Gothic House in Eldon.
Sykes said the potential lawsuit would be dropped if Valley View Swine relocated the hog confinements farther away from those sensitive sites, although he didn’t say exactly how far away the confinements would have to be.
“In this current situation, we feel the siting is problematic,” he said. “The folks involved are not really acting like good neighbors.”
Technologies exist to reduce the odor emanating from hog confinements. Hog confinement manure pits emit methane. Sykes said machines exist that can convert this methane into electricity and sold to the electrical grid.
“A lot of this technology is going on in Europe and to a lesser degree in the United States,” he said. “To my knowledge, Valley View Swine is not intending to use these technologies but if they do, and it minimizes the issue, then we’ll see.”
During a meeting with Batavia residents March 1, Shawn Adam mentioned a few ways in which he would reduce the odor coming from the confinements. He said he would build a 10-foot manure pit instead of the 8-foot pit typically required by the Department of Natural Resources. The additional depth will allow Adam to pump the pit only once a year instead of twice. He said pumping the pit is when the surrounding area can most easily smell the manure odor. Shawn Adam said he would also plant trees around the confinements to serve as a windbreak.
Sykes said the group of neighbors might also reconsider litigation if the Adam family raised hogs according to what he calls “traditional farming practices.”
“Both [Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors] and this plaintiff group have no problem with traditional farming practices such as hogs grazing in the sun and which can go in and out of the buildings as they did for generations,” he said. “Then there would be no problem with the siting. I would say it would be a whole different discussion.”
Sykes said 5,000 hogs on one site was “a lot.” He said the high concentration of animals is what causes the problems associated with confinements.
“When you enclose that many animals in a confinement, you have to use antibiotics heavily in order to keep disease down,” he said. “The antibiotics get in the feces, which are spread on the ground and can get into the water table.”