Linn County supervisors oppose factory farm proposal

But letter could have little impact on DNR's decision on proposal

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Linn County supervisors will seek further state review of a proposed hog confinement facility near Center Point.

Supervisors voted 4-1 to send a letter to recommend the Department of Natural Resources turn down Matt Ditch's application for a 5,661-hog confinement on property owned by his parents Kenneth and Rebecca Ditch at 4853 W. Otter Rd., northeast of Central City.

But the supervisors' letter carries no weight with the DNR unless they also take points off Matt Ditch's "master matrix," scoring his application. The application now shows 450 points, 10 more than the minimum needed for approval.

"We may need to bring this back to the board, just so that itís clear," said Supervisor Linda Langston, D-Cedar Rapids. "Thatís what I was intending to do, to drop some points."

If the county sends a passing score to the DNR, the agency is prohibited under state law from further review of the matrix, said Gene Tinker, animal feeding operation† coordinator at the DNR's Manchester office.

"The county has† a lot of clout based on whether they give it a passing score or a non-passing score," said Tinker.

"If you don't (reduce points), they basically rubber-stamp it," said Chris Behmlander, who lives under two miles from the site.

Opponents, including some who live near the Ditches' property, question several matrix scores, including plans for manure disposal and the distance from the planned hog barns to a well. Langston thinks the county may have grounds to challenge the well distance and the operation's proximity to Otter Creek.

"There are some water issues," she said.

Supervisor Brent Oleson, R-Marion, was the sole dissenting vote.

"The DNR should approve this application," Oleson said. "I'm going to err on the side of personal property rights."

Oleson called opponents' case against the application "a lot of propaganda. I'm not sure I would go so far as to say 'junk science,' but it's really close."

Langston said the Ditch property is just outside Center Point's two-mile urban service zone, set aside by county planners to accommodate future growth.

"This could have significant impact on the growth around Center Point," Langston said.

"I think we made a small victory," said Behmlander's wife Regina Behmlander. "People are more and more interested in stopping this."

If approved, the facility would be the sixth confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Linn County. The state requires permits for facilities housing more than 1,000 cattle or 2,500 hogs.

The five existing CAFOs in the county house a total of 650 dairy cattle and 24,539 hogs.

According to Matt Ditch's application, the operation would generate 1,446,386 gallons of manure a year. The application calls for manure to be stored in a 225-foot-long, eight-foot-deep pit before it's spread on nearby fields. At 3,300 gallons per acre specified in the application, that would require about 440 acres for waste disposal.

Matt Ditch, who declined to comment, intends to raise the hogs under contract to The Maaschhoffs of Carlyle, Ill., according to the application. The firm manages a "pork production network" of more than 400 farms, according to its web site.CAFO 01 12 Application Document

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