Iowa agency grants county's request to deny building permit.

With permit approvals by both the Dallas County Board of Supervisors and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Dallas County farmer Robert Manning Jr. figured he was set to build two hog finishing sites south of Dawson, IA, to house 14,400 hogs.

Manning's applications to build were based on the need for enough manure to fertilize 7,000 acres of land he farms with his father and brother. Cargill would own the hogs.

Dallas County supervisors scored the application on the state's master matrix and the proposed sites passed that test. The master matrix, approved by the state legislature in 2002, rates proposed livestock confinement operations for their potential impact on the environment.

In addition, the DNR gave its nod of approval for a building permit. For hog finishing operations in Iowa, the permit is required when production exceeds 1,000 animal units or more than 2,500 hogs.

Despite those approvals, there was a lot of opposition from neighbors and environmental groups. The Des Moines Water Works has been opposed to the construction because of concerns its location would further pollute the Raccoon River, one of the major waterways supplying drinking water to the Des Moines area in neighboring Polk County to the east.

“The way our law is written, the county board of supervisors can appeal the DNR's issuance of permit approval to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), even though the county has given the producer a passing score on the matrix,” explains Eldon McAfee, a Des Moines attorney who often represents the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) and its members in legal matters.

At a recent monthly meeting, the EPC, a state commission comprised of citizens appointed by the governor, granted Dallas County's request to overturn the DNR's decision to permit construction.

“There have been several other permits denied by the EPC throughout the years, but those were always based on a failure to meet a requirement of the law,” McAfee clarifies. This time, however, the denial was based on the potential pollution to the Raccoon River from the application of hog manure to nearby fields.

But that ruling misses the point that the hog manure this farmer would have applied under his manure management plan would have, by law, replaced commercial fertilizer with hog manure, McAfee points out.

Besides not adding potential pollutants to the watershed, manure is a more environmentally friendly source of crop nutrients when compared with petroleum-based commercial fertilizer, he adds.

McAfee adds in representing IPPA: “The association believes that when the producer meets the extensive requirements of state law that a permit should be issued.”

The concern is that EPC will be pressured to take the same action when other Iowa counties faced with public opposition to a permit application file an appeal, he says.

“Producers need the uniformity and certainty of objective permit standards,” McAfee stresses.