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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Four opponents of a 11,600-head cattle feedlot in northeast Iowa have filed an Iowa Senate ethics complaint against Sen. Dan Zumbach, saying Zumbach used his position to pressure state employees to approve the feedlot owned by his son-in-law.
The complaint alleges Zumbach, a Ryan Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, met with Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials at least twice about the feedlot between 2017 and 2020, despite neither the feedlot nor the owners being in his district.
The complaint was filed Wednesday by Steve Veysey of Ames; Wally Taylor of Marion, Larry Stone of Elkader and Jess Mazour of Des Moines, all members of the Committee to Save Bloody Run Creek.
According to the complaint, Zumbach weighed in with the DNR before critical decisions about the project. These included:
- The DNR’s 2017 decision to allow an earthen manure storage basin to be classified as an industrial wastewater treatment lagoon. Earthen basins are not allowed in the porous, karst terrain of northeast Iowa.
- When the DNR was considering in 2017 issuance of a federal stormwater permit for construction at the site near Monona. Feedlot owners got the permit after two face-to-face meetings including Zumbach and DNR staff, the complaint states.
- The DNR legal staff argued in 2018 stormwater permit violations at the feedlot should be handled the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which may pursue higher penalties. The state Environmental Protection Commission in July 2018 failed to take a vote, leaving the matter with the DNR.
- The DNR’s 2020 decision to approve a nutrient management plan for the feedlot.
Zumbach acknowledged to The Gazette last spring he had a phone conversation with DNR Director Kayla Lyon on Oct. 2, 2020, about Supreme Beef, owned by Mike Walz, Dean Walz and Jared Walz. Jared Walz is the husband of Zumbach’s daughter, Chelsea, and father of Zumbach’s grandchildren.
“Since I sit on the Natural Resources Committee, I’m in communication with the DNR, and I simply asked Kayla to get the right folks in contact with Supreme Beef so they could continue working through the permitting process,” Zumbach said.
“I don’t know the players at all,” he said. “That’s not part of my concern or my responsibility. I simply asked the director if she could help this constituent get to the right folks.”
The Walzes do not live in Zumbach’s District 48, which includes Delaware County and portions of Linn, Buchanan and Jones counties, nor is the Supreme Beef site near Monona in Zumbach’s district.
Zumbach said earlier this year that was “irrelevant.”
“When anyone from the state of Iowa calls you, we represent all of Iowa when we’re down here (Des Moines), not just our districts,” he said.
The complaint says Zumbach broke the Senate Code of Ethics, which says members should “strive to avoid both unethical and illegal conduct and the appearance of unethical and illegal conduct.”
Further, the code says:
“Whenever a senator appears before a governmental agency or board, the senator shall carefully avoid all conduct which might in any way lead members of the general public to conclude that the senator is using the senator’s official position to further the senator’s professional success or personal financial interest.”
The complaint does not allege Zumbach had any financial stake in the feedlot, a point Zumbach reiterated in a response to the Gazette Wednesday.
“I’m really saddened by this organization’s thoughts they need to personally attack legislators,” he said in a voicemail. “I have no ability to influence the DNR and I have no financial interest in that facility.”
The group is asking the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate, including interviewing DNR and legislative staff, and, if a violation is found, to sanction Zumbach.
The committee is chaired by two Republicans, Sen. Carrie Koelker of Dyersville and Sen. Jim Carlin of Sioux City.
Zumbach has 10 days after receiving the complaint to respond if he wants to do so.
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