Lohrville wrestles with hog-confinement issue

A Wisconsin-based corporation has submitted an application to build its factory-style hog-confinement feeding operation just over a mile north of Lohrville. 

On Sept. 5, Lohrville was the location of a public meeting hosted by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. This was a meeting with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Acting Director Bruce Trautman. Mr. Trautman was so generous to come to our town to hear the concerns of our community regarding the location of this operation.

I expressed concerns on behalf of our town about quality of life diminishing due to odor blown toward town; a majority of the year the winds are from the north and northwest. 

We also have concerns about runoff from land application of waste from the hogs. 

We are fortunate to have very good water from our aquifer and feel water quality should be protected.  Many others at the meeting expressed similar concerns about smell from the operation or transportation of the hogs and waste and water quality diminishing.  

Jim Hirschberg, whose home is surrounded by hog operations, made some very good points about what residents near these operations must put up with. 

Why should we allow someone to dump their trash on our lawns? 

The stench and airborne particles from these operations most certainly travel to neighbors and linger for some time. Under the purview of the DNR’s mission is protecting our natural resources, which includes the air we breathe.

State House of Representatives candidate Jake Thompson lives outside of Rockwell City, and he also spoke to the idea of being good neighbors. A local farmer can be reasoned with if there is an issue, but a corporation from out of state such as this has nothing to gain by being a good neighbor. The actual owner might never even see the operation. 

Others brought up the fact that the DNR director has the option to deny any permit at his discretion.  They very strongly encouraged Mr. Trautman to stand against this and start a movement of change regarding these operations.

Mr. Trautman spoke several times. 

He grew up as a farmer in Nebraska and shares our values of a rural farming community. He has a great love of our natural resources and a desire to protect them, that is why he has been part of the organizations he has been active with. 

He sees this and similar applications for confinement operations as difficult questions. 

When an operation meets the legal requirements to be built he is caught in a legal/ethical battle. 

While he desires a focus on local ideals, legally he feels tied. State attorneys have stated to him that if he denies a permit using his discretionary option, they feel it will be difficult to defend. 

In other words, if he denies a permit that has met the legal standards, the operation may file suit against the state and it will be a very tough battle to uphold that denial ending in great expense of taxpayer money and the likelihood of the operation still being built.

We all realize we are a rural community. 

We appreciate the farmers in our area, they provide food for us and the world. They are hardworking, considerate neighbors that support our communities. We would not be the communities we are without our farmers, and we are appreciative for everything they do. 

An operation such as Burr Oak LLC is not a farmer neighbor. 

An operation this size is not a farm, it’s a factory. 

While our neighbors can be considerate, those operating facilities such as this are not our neighbors, they are businesspeople from out of state. We have an astonishing number of hog confinements already in our state.

The question of how to best handle this epidemic of oversized operations while allowing space for our farmers is not an easy one. 

Everyone speaks to how the matrix system is flawed but not a lot about what the solution is to rectify the situation. I believe we need to gather cities, counties, farmers, legislators, DNR staff and the governor’s office to find some fair compromises. This discussion must be had amongst those that reside in our state and have to put up with the ramifications of this. 

Individual counties need more say in what happens. I am a firm proponent of local control — the more local the government, the easier the access for its citizens and the more likely they are to listen. 

For longevity’s sake and continuity across the state, some statewide benchmarks are necessary but must not be completely overruling.

I would strongly recommend individuals contact their state legislators regarding this. Tell them your thoughts on the plethora of hog operations now built and the many more that are coming at us. 

We should have not just an opportunity to have our voice heard but for that voice to make a difference in the decision.

Donny Hobbs is the mayor of Lohrville.

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