CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowans concerned with the proliferation of large-scale animal feeding operations are beating the drum for changes that include local control for counties and changes to Iowa’s master matrix, a scoring system for siting the operations.
That drum beat was steady in a nearly two-hour panel discussion Monday night at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. More than 50 people showed up to listen to eight speakers, including current and former state lawmakers, community organizers, farmers and a former Iowa Department of Natural Resources official.
“The master matrix is what has taken away the ability of counties to say very much at all where facilities are located,” said David Osterberg, founder, researcher and former director of the Iowa Policy Project.
One facility concerning panelists is a 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation under construction near the Clayton County city of Monona in northeast Iowa.
Larry Stone, of Elkader, explained how the Walz Energy facility will put cow manure into a digester to create methane the owners plan to sell for energy. But the waste product will be stored in a 39-million-gallon lagoon that Stone worries will leak through the porous karst topography.
“On the one hand, I have to commend Walz Energy for looking at a different way, perhaps a better, way of dealing with this waste,” Stone said. “But I’m a firm believer in Murphy’s Law. When — not if — something happens, Bloody Run Creek is in jeopardy.”
Monte Marti, of Allamakee County, said Iowans need to be concerned with the economic impact of polluting streams and rivers.
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A 2016 study of the economic impact of trout fishing in the Driftless Region of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin estimates the industry brings $1.6 billion into those communities, Marti said. “In Winneshiek County alone, it was $24 million,” he said.
Steve Falck, with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Des Moines, told the audience about three bills they could support at the Iowa Statehouse if they want to rein in large-scale animal feeding operations.
Senate File 131 would reduce from 1,250 to 650 pigs the threshold for state regulation. Senate File 328 would prohibit feeding operations on karst topography. House File 456 would give counties more control of siting operations, Falck said.
Monday’s panel was the second organized by Kevin Techau, a Cedar Rapids attorney and former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, and Ric Zarwell, of Lansing. Zarwell is a founder of the Allamakee County Protectors, an Eastern Iowa environmental group. The first forum was Nov. 9 at Luther College in Decorah.
Techau and Zarwell, who are planning a third event in January in Des Moines, oppose Iowa’s master matrix, a scoring system developed in 2002 to decide where large-scale animal feeding operations may be located. The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission voted in September to keep the matrix as is, despite concerns animal confinement operations are being built in vulnerable areas.
“Our goal is to promote a thoughtful, evidenced based discussion so policymakers can fix the Master Matrix so it does the job it was intended to perform,” Techau said in an email to The Gazette.
He said information from the gathered from the programs will be shared with the DNR, state officials, the Environmental Protection Commission and “legislative leaders from both parties.”
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