With some pretty stiff opposition by a couple persons, the Emmet County Board of Supervisors Tuesday offered empathy for those impacted by a proposed animal confinement expansion - but said they could do nothing about it.
The board held a public hearing on a proposed expansion of CAH Livestock's confinement feeding operation in Section 28 of Ellsworth Township, Board chair Alan Madden said an onsite visit of the 2,100 animal unit operation did not turn up any problems.
However, Daryl Madison who lives directly north of the operation said he was already getting smells and trucks were going by. He asked the board if what it gets from property taxes from the operation pays for road maintenance.
"Are we doing anything with these hog houses like these that are getting built?" asked Madison, asking if water contamination could be an issue.
Madison also said county engineer Roger Patocka had tried to do something about loads on roads, "And you shut him down."
"Is this fair for the people?" asked Madison, saying he had wanted to build a house on his property for 40 years but that now he doesn't.
Madison also asked if anyone inspects confinements and questioned if cement walls are cracking whether anyone inspects them.
He also questioned road damage from slurry tankers.
"How much road damage do they do?" asked Madison. "I'd like you guys to kind of look at this.
Eric Anderson, who also lives in the area, said property owners at a water trails meeting felt their rights were being infringed upon. "Maybe they should start listening to us," he said, regarding the confinement issue.
"Let's listen to the public. The ones that voted you in," said Madison.
Supervisor Jon Martyr agreed with Madison, especially when it comes to out-of-state factory confinements. He said though it was difficult for the county to be effective against a confinement that met the Iowa Department of Natural Resources matrix evaluation. Martyr also said he had spoken out about some confinements but that the legislature had not left counties with much say on the matter.
Martyr said public outcry had stopped Chris Hoffman (who is proposing the feeding operation) from putting in a confinement north of Estherville. Martyr said he had visited the proposed operation with the rest of the board, and while recognizing there were concerns, the site appears to be within the law.
"Our hands are somewhat tied with the legislature," said supervisor Ron Smith.
Supervisor Tim Schumacher said he had serious questions about the matrix itself.
"The question we've wrestled with is if the matrix strict enough," Schumacher said.
"You have to agree the matrix is a joke anyway,' said Madison.
"The matrix is cut and dried," said Schumacher, adding regarding out-of-state confinements, "They're using up our resources. They're using up our roads."
Martyr agreed that the county doesn't recoup its costs to impact to roads from the property tax on confinements.
Madden said it was "the court of public opinion" that had stopped a proposed confinement north of Estherville.
"This all boils down to local control," said Madden. "We have the responsibility here - this board - without any authority." He said when the matrix came into effect, Humboldt County fought it and one of the entities opposing that county was Farm Bureau.
He also noted that former District 7 Rep. Marcie Frevert had introduced legislation that all questions on the matrix had to be completed.
"Local control is nonexistent in Iowa," said Madden. "We can't change it."
And, while the county has received compensation for road damage, there are 80,000-pound to 100,000-pound tanks going over county roads. He said the ag taxpayer needs to talk to legislators.
"It's the best we've got," Madden said of the matrix. "We don't have another choice."
"So I should have my taxes lowered," said Madison, citing reduced property values.
Madden said if valuations aren't where the states thinks they should be, the state will come back and raise them.
Martyr noted that if property values and valuations go down, maybe the state will look at the impact of confinements.
Supervisor Ron Smith said people had to look at both sides. He said conservation in agriculture had come a long way with no more lagoons.
Madden noted that both Martin and Blue Earth counties in Minnesota had local control.
"Do we have a representative here who's going to carry it to the legislature for us?" asked Madden. "I don't know of a site anywhere in Emmet County where I would build a new home." He said people needed to devote their energies to persuading their local representative and senator to fight for local control.
Supervisor Bev Juhl moved that the board sign the matrix application with a summary of comments made at the meeting.