MASON CITY | Cerro Gordo County Supervisors recommended unanimously Tuesday to reject an application for construction of a hog confinement facility near Ventura.
The application, from River Edge Farms LLC, met all requirements in a state matrix, but Supervisors Jay Urdahl, Phil Dougherty and Casey Callanan all had concerns with the location of the proposed facility in relation to homes and nearby wildlife areas.
The supervisors’ recommendation will now go to the Department of Natural Resources which has the final say.
Twenty-three people spoke at a public hearing prior to the vote — 20 of whom opposed the application.
The proposed site was on 300th Street about a half-mile east of Balsam Avenue north of Ventura. The plan was to house 4,992 head of finishing hogs.
Angela Calloway, co-owner of the nearest dwelling to the site — 2,415 feet from it — told supervisors she and her husband want to sell the property and had a buyer for it.
But she said the buyer is a woman with asthma with a special-needs child and "she wants a nice, clean safe environment." If the hog confinement was approved, she said, "I’m stuck with a piece of property that is worthless."
Mary Kay Johnson of Clear Lake said, "If we know we are polluting our world, why are we here? We know better. Who else messes in their own nest? It’s a horrible rape of our environment."
Tom Willett told the supervisors, "I feel for you. Your hands are tied," referring to the state guidelines that supercede any county action. "Our issue is with the Legislature," he said, "but you can be the spark that lights the fire."
Mark VanHeel chided supervisors for "not sticking your neck out" and taking a stand when the Mason City Council was debating the proposal for the Prestage Farms pork processing plant. "Stick you neck out now," he urged them.
Becky Sexton, representing the ownership of River Edge Farms, pointed out that River Edge is family-owned and not a large corporate operation. "We will be a good neighbor," she said.
Rusty Olson, president of the Hancock County Farm Bureau, also spoke in favor of the proposal. "I work in a confinement every day," he said. "The technology is good. The system does work."
Andy Muff, a Ventura farmer, also spoke in favor and said it was an emotional issue. He said his wife accompanied him to the meeting but became so upset with some of the comments that she had to leave the room.
Supervisor Jay Urdahl said he had concerns about the proximity of homes to the proposed site — seven within one mile of the site. Also, he said, six wildlife areas are within two miles of the site.
"We are not against agriculture," said Urdahl. "But this needs to be sited in a different locale. I don’t know what kind of standing it will have (with the state), but I am going to vote no."
Callanan and Dougherty also expressed concerns about the location of the proposed site.
Urdahl reminded the audience that in May 2002, Cerro Gordo supervisors approved an ordinance establishing a one-year moratorium on the building of confinement facilities, with exceptions for expansions of up to 15 percent on existing facilities and exemptions for open feed lots.
Their goal was to halt construction of large commercial operations without hurting family farms. Urdahl and Dougherty, who were supervisors back then, both supported the moratorium.
Worth County had a similar ordinance that was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court. So Cerro Gordo supervisors repealed the county moratorium since it did not comply with state law.