Supervisors not recommending approval of new hog facility plan
The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors will recommend not approving KK Finisher’s construction application to the Department of Natural Resources for building a new 1,200-head deep-pit swine finisher barn at an existing hog facility north of Pleasant Plain.
At a public hearing Wednesday night attended by about a dozen people, the supervisors gave the amended Dec. 19 Master Matrix a score of 400 points. To pass, the matrix needs a minimum of 440 points out of 880. The application was submitted and amended meeting the minimum 440 points.
A few members of the public spoke; two people asked the supervisors not to recommend the application to the DNR and one neighbor pointed out why expanding the existing 2,200-head hog confinement feeding operation could economically hurt the neighbor’s farming and gardening operations.
“We’re open to the public for comment,” said supervisor chairman Steve Burgmeier. “At some point, we’d like written comments submitted to forward to DNR.”
Diane Rosenberg, executive director of Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors Inc., and Jim Rubis provided written comments and spoke to the board.
“After reviewing the Master Matrix and its revision, it appears to me it does not deserve to be approved,” said Rubis. “The applications were turned in with the minimum allowable scores. Very few of the points applied for [by owner Ryan Robertson] have any explanation nor do they establish or defend why they are justified.
“Based on this cavalier attitude, and Mr. Robertson’s history of poor compliance, violation of rules, and incorrect or even false representation of matrix points both this year and last, it is hard to believe that he will take seriously the construction and operation rules that are in place to protect the environment and the neighbors to his operation,” said Rubis.
No one attending the public hearing spoke on behalf of KK Finisher. Burgmeier said Robertson was in Mexico, attending a long-planned Christmas family vacation.
“I thought Pinnacle would be here,” said supervisor Dick Reed.
Pinnacle of Iowa Falls is an agronomic and environmental consulting firm hired by Robertson to oversee his business. At Wednesday morning’s regular supervisors meeting, John Everly, a manure management and soil-sampling specialist from Pinnacle, attended and addressed questions about the amended Master Matrix submitted by KK Finisher.
“Since he was in town this morning and hung around until noon, I thought he’d get a hotel room and come to this public hearing,” said Reed.
Rosenberg went through the matrix, highlighting points taken for items that were questionable.
Points taken by KK Finisher for being an additional 250-feet distance away from the closest water source above the minimum 500-foot requirement awards five points.
“The measurement is within 1.29 feet as determined by Pinnacle’s measurements and within 5 feet from the creek to the west of the proposed confinement building according to DNR measurements last year,” said Rosenberg.
KK Finisher had applied for a construction permit for this same site a year ago and the Master Matrix at the time failed.
“I’m asking the county engineer take a hard measurement on site,” said Rosenberg. “In 2005, there was a situation with Mr. Robertson about locating in a 100-year flood plain and those measurements were off by 50 feet. That was discovered through infrared aerial views. There’s been no opportunity to measure this distance accurately yet.”
The matrix had 20 points for a required landscaping plan. A buffer of fast-growing and slow-growing trees planted in three rows is required to protect air and water quality at the confinement building.
“I find only a scant plan, it provides no information about the species of trees, the number or placement of trees, and there’s no plan about maintaining the trees through our cold winters and conditions such as the summer’s drought,” said Rosenberg.
She pointed to the 10 points taken for an additional 50 feet distance above the minimum requirement for land application of manure to the closest well.
“At this morning’s meeting, we learned those 10 points were taken based on recent aerial maps,” she said. “Older maps need to be consulted to see if uncapped wells are in the vicinity.”
A required emergency action plan was awarded five points, and Rosenberg said it was not a sufficient plan.
“This matrix came in at 440 points and subtracting 40 points means it fails,” said Rosenberg. “KK Finisher didn’t take enough care to come in higher than the minimum required.
“Mr. Robertson has a history of complaints, and he was able to take points for no administrative orders in the past five years only because the DNR did not address a complaint brought by Francis Thicke last year,” she said.
“Francis brought up Robertson was not in compliance with manure levels spread on fields. A higher residue than allowed was there, creating more run-offs.
“The DNR asked Natural Resources Conservation Services to evaluate the fields, but for months, Robertson would not allow them onto his fields,” said Rosenberg. “Finally, after this growing season, were they allowed in — after the evidence had time to dissipate.
“It is JFAN’s opinion that considering Robertson’s past actions, we feel no leniency should be given in scoring his Master Matrix. It is our opinion the supervisors should not recommend a pass to the DNR.”
Rosenberg thanked the supervisors for working with the public and JFAN to have input and for bringing in the DNR and Pinnacle.
A neighboring farmer to the hog facility said the smell level currently is acceptable, but adding more than 1,000 hogs might hurt the farm’s business because volunteers and visitors come out to the farm to help garden and purchase herbs.
Burgmeier said Rosenberg’s concerns were the same as the board of supervisors.
“If he took the points, it’s up to him to prove and support his claims,” he said.
Burgmeier questioned the wells item, the emergency and landscaping plans and measurements used.
“I don’t think he’s even measured the distances,” said Burgmeier.
“It wouldn’t be hard with a building this size to be off by a few feet,” said Reed, a lifelong building contractor.
“I see this as a two-way street. I like to see people productive; I like to see people making money,” said Reed. “I agree we need to take deductions from the score on some of these items.”
The supervisors unanimously voted to score the matrix with 400 points and recommend the DNR not approve the application for reasons stated in the scoring process.
“I’ll ask the auditor to send the public comments to the DNR by the deadline, Jan. 4,” said Burgmeier.