Ray Slach has applied to build another concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Johnson Couty, this one with more than 2,500 hogs. He already operates CAFOs in Johnson and Cedar Counties, and the size of the proposed facility is big enough to trigger a seldom used provision of the law requiring the county supervisors to score and submit a matrix on the application to state regulators.
By June 30, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors must submit 1). a recommendation to approve or to disapprove the application; 2). the board’s scoring of the matrix, including all supporting calculations; and 3). proof of publication of a public notice. Click here to read the public hearing notice. Click here to read the letter to the board of supervisors from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Because of Iowa’s state preemption on regulation of CAFOs the opinion of local municipalities may not count for much, as the state can override any recommendations. The public hearing will be held Thursday, June 19 at 9 a.m. in the board room of the Johnson County Administration Building.
Here is Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan’s view on this CAFO application from his June 17 newsletter:
“The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has a pending application for a large confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). It would be off Oasis Road, just north and east of American Legion Road. It is about three miles from both IC and West Branch. It would be a hog confinement, and my understanding is it would house over 2,500 hogs. The applicant is a gentleman named Ray Slach. I do not know Mr. Slach, but I have heard good things about him personally. I have also heard that his record of manure management leaves a lot to be desired.
The public has many apprehensions over CAFOs. I’ll try to address some key concerns:
Water quality: 2,500 hogs is a large number of animals. Hogs produce about six times as much waste as humans; that means this facility will be responsible for about the same amount of waste as the City of North Liberty. Handling that volume of waste would be a challenge under any circumstances. That said, I know an irresponsible operator can do more environmental damage with far fewer hogs. But even if the lagoons are properly contained, there can be issues. With all the tile in our fields, it is conceivable that large scale manure application to fields can end up in our drinking water.
Air quality: I drove out to the site, and it is pretty remote, as much as anything in Johnson County can be remote. There aren’t many houses nearby. I have been reviewing the research on odors, and it is all over the board. Obviously, management, climate, terrain, and average winds all make a big difference. Clemson University says the odor from a CAFO should almost never exceed one mile. The University of Minnesota says human health can be negatively impacted up to ten miles away. Iowa State researchers have conflicting data within a single university. Clearly more study will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, if you ask folks who live near them, no study is necessary!
Animal welfare: It is difficult to imagine that hogs enjoy being confined. There isn’t much room to move; rooting cannot happen; social interactions are altered dramatically; antibiotics tend to be overused to compensate for crowded conditions. On the other hand, farmers realize that animals under stress do not put on weight as easily as animals that seem content. The pork industry and animal welfare groups have wildly different ideas regarding what constitutes humane treatment; again, research lags.
I have been on the Board ten years, and this is the first CAFO application we have had that is large enough to trigger the Master Matrix process. That is a process that allows local governments to comment (but only to comment) on the process.
So the bottom line is: local governments are “allowed” to weigh in on these applications, but the state doesn’t really care what the local governments have to say. But we ARE holding a public hearing on Thursday, June 19, at 9 a.m. in the board room. The public may also submit written comments.
If you care about this issue– please let us know!”