Webster County calls for governor, Legislature to ‘address the failings’ of master matrix
By JOE SUTTER
FORT DODGE – The Webster County Board of Supervisors signed a resolution March 21 calling for the governor and state Legislature to “address the failings” of the master matrix which governs the construction process for hog confinements and other concentrated animal feeding operations.
The resolution, approved unanimously with Supervisor Mark Campbell absent, states changes are needed to “protect the air, water, health, ‘quality of life,’ and economic interests of the citizens we were elected to represent.”
According to Jamie Cashman, government relations manager for the Iowa State Association of Counties, this was the latest of about a half-dozen counties to call for a review of the matrix, which has not had an upgrade or review since its creation in 2002.
A total of 88 of Iowa’s 99 counties use the matrix to evaluate construction permit applications and proposed locations for animal confinements.
Eleven counties have opted out of using the matrix during 2017 – Davis, Decatur, Des Moines, Keokuk, Lee, Mahaska, Osceola, Plymouth, Wapella, Warren and Washington.
He said ISAC did not encourage county boards of supervisors to approve these petitions, even though ISAC has a long-standing policy of wanting the matrix reviewed.
“But we’ve made no effort with this session,”?Cashman said. “All of the counties are doing this on their own.”
Cashman said it would take a directive from the Iowa legislature to conduct a review. If one should be called, he expects that organizations such as ISAC and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will be asked to sit in on the process.
“That’s how it was handled the last time,” he said.
Webster County’s resolution does not call for a moratorium on building new confinements until such action can be taken, as the Webster County Planning and Zoning Board recommended two weeks ago.
The March 21 resolution follows a large number of new hog confinement applications in the county over the past year. Supervisors have previously said the number may continue to increase.
Supervisors asked the planning and zoning board to hold a series of meetings and come back with recommendations, which were presented at the March 7 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Gregg Hora, a swine producer and president of the Webster County Pork Producer’s Association and president-elect to the Iowa Pork Producers Association, spoke against passing the resolution Tuesday.
“I believe your intent, while it is well-meaning, I believe it does not address the issues we could cooperatively work with,” Hora said. “With Iowa twice in the last 90 days announcing budget shortfalls, now is not the time to restrict business and economic development.”
Hora noted that none of the supervisors did not attend the three planning and zoning board meetings. The supervisors, however, said they’d had numerous other opportunities to speak with both livestock farmers and other citizens.
“Planning and Zoning held three meetings in November, December and February,” Hora said. Of those last two meetings, “none of the five of you attended those public meetings to hear from livestock farmers.”
“As to the rules and regulations that are currently in place to learn more about the process, can we always have consistent improvement? Yes we can. Do we need to have consistent regulation? Yes we do. But none of the five of you participated in coming to any of those meetings to look livestock producers in the face who are spending a lot of money for business development in this county to bring in more jobs, and to play by the rules that are in place.”
Supervisor Bob Thode said he planned on going to one of the planning and zoning meetings, but was advised not to. This was for all planning and zoning meetings, not just those related to hog confinements.
This is because the planning and zoning board is its own independent board, and the supervisors don’t want to influence or appear to influence their decision-making, Supervisor Merrill Leffler said.
“This board and many of us have sat in on numerous meetings in the past year,” Leffler said. “We have been very involved, we have listened to both sides of the issue. … I do believe this board is up to speed on what the public wants.”
“I called most of the hog producers in my area, past and present, and asked them what they thought of the situation in District 1, my area,” said Supervisor Keith Dencklau.
Hora highlighted the economic impact of swine production on the area – including jobs, tax base and bushels of corn used.
He also said the structure of agriculture is always changing and evolving.
That’s a good reason to revisit the master matrix, which was created in 2002, Leffler said.
“We are just asking for the matrix to be looked at. It’s old,” Leffler said. “You’ve said that agriculture is evolving. It’s time to look at it and make sure it is working right.”
Fort Dodge City Councilman Kim Alstott thanked the supervisors for looking into the matter.
“I do have a concern that when Prestage comes in there’s going to be a lot of hog confinements,” Alstott said. “It might be a possibility that there might be a confinement built closer to Fort Dodge than it needs to be. If it is, the smell will not be good.
“We want to support the farmers. We always do. But we don’t want that to happen to Fort Dodge or any other town.”
Over the past summer the supervisors twice rejected an application for a proposed 5,000-head hog operation which would have been about a mile and a half west of Clare.
One meeting on the proposal was standing room only in the large third-floor courtroom with about 75 people attending. Supervisors heard recommendations against it from residents of Clare and the mayor, and from Webster County Conservation Director Matt Cosgrove.
That application was later withdrawn by the company.
The company needed a score of at least 440 based on the master matrix in order to build the plant there. The company’s own scoring equaled 445, but the supervisors’ analysis put the score nearer to 310.
The supervisors can’t approve or deny a confinement, they can only issue a recommendation. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has the final say.
The resolution passed Tuesday will make no concrete changes; it merely petitions the state government to take a look.
The Planning and Zoning Board recommended the supervisors call for a moratorium on new animal confinements, and to request changes to Iowa zoning ordinances to help counties protect their assets during site selection for confinements.
Neither recommendation was in the final resolution.
At least six other Iowa counties either passed resolutions or sent official letters asking the governor and Legislature to revisit and change the master matrix.
Allamakee, Dickinson and Winneshiek counties’ resolutions specifically request a moratorium on new buildings until legislation addressing the master matrix can be passed. Floyd and Howard counties also passed resolutions, and Pocahontas County sent a letter to the statehouse.
Compared to some other counties, Webster County’s resolution is “watered down,” Hora said.
“I want to thank you for that,” he said.
Larry Kershner, Farm News editor, contributed to this report.
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