MINEOLA — Protesters filled St. John Church here Monday night to voice their concerns about a proposed chicken confinement facility that would be located on the Pottawattamie-Mills County line about a mile north of Mineola.
Last week, the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors voted to deny approval of a request from Mike Clifton to build the eight-barn broiler raising confinement on a 60-acre tract on 253rd Street just north of Applewood Road.
The confinement facility, which supervisors said would raise 200,000 or more broiler chickens every eight weeks, would be located on property owned by Cory and Amanda Leick, who have offered to sell the property to Clifton.
Most of those who spoke in opposition to the proposal — none who attended the meeting spoke in favor — were angered by the fact that neighbors knew nothing of the plan until a Nonpareil story about the supervisors’ vote. They were also concerned about the smell that would be created and the adverse impact on their property values.
“We are not anti-farm, but we are against this type of an operation,” said Molly George, who helped organize Monday’s meeting. “There is no state law to deal with the odor that will be created. Our property values will go down by 15% to 40%.
“The roads — Applewood Road and 253rd Street — are not good on a good day, and the increased traffic created by this proposal will make them worse,” she said. “We want you to leave here knowing there is a way to stop this.”
Mark Hanwright, a Council Bluffs Realtor, said his home is three miles from the proposed facility, which would result in a “dangerous increase” in truck traffic.
“This project would derail millions of dollars invested by developers in the area,” he said. “The water table around the proposed site is very shallow, and pollution from the site could cause health problems. I’m not anti-agriculture, but there are industrial sites that are better suited to this type of operation.”
“This is industry,” said Scott Belt, one of the four Pottawattamie County supervisors who voted to deny Clifton’s request last week, “this isn’t farming. I don’t see this as a positive for Pottawattamie County. This is the largest public outcry I’ve seen in my 28 years in politics.”
Council Bluffs attorney Dean Jennings, who attended the meeting at the request of state Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-22nd, told those objecting to the facility they would, at some point, need legal counsel to help in their effort to block the proposed development.
“You’re going to spend big dollars to win a case,” Jennings said. “You should be prepared to spend $100,000.”
Jacobsen, who spoke to the group via Skype from the capitol in Des Moines, reminded those attending that while supervisors have recommended denial, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has neither denied nor approved the proposal, which has scored the required number of points for approval.
The DNR requires a minimum score of 440 on the Master Matrix that rates various critical aspects of a proposal. Clifton’s proposal scored 480 points, well above the required 440.
Jacobson added that county officials can appeal DNR approval of the plan.
Both Belt and Supervisor Tim Wichman, who also attended the meeting, said supervisors would appeal if DNR officials approve the facility.
“This situation troubles me a great deal,” said state Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Dist. 11, who joined Jacobsen on Skype from Des Moines. “I’m troubled by the fact that neighbors weren’t involved. Surprises usually never end very well. I am very concerned about what this project involves and how it’s been handled.”
Rebecca Castle, president of Southwest Iowa Nature Trails, which manages the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, said she is concerned by the fact the proposed confinement facility would be located within a few hundred yards of the Wabash Trace.
Clifton, the proposed developer of the confinement facility, said he has been looking for a site for the facility for over three years, adding that he and his family would be living on the site. He said his partner in the operation — his brother in law — would also be living on the site.
Responding to questions, Clifton, an electrician, said he has no experience running a chicken confinement facility. But he added that most of the operation is automated.
“I was not invited to this meeting,” he said. “I did everything by the book. I’m not sure why the board of supervisors recommended denial of my application.
Cory Leick said he purchased the property, which is not currently in production, at auction in December 2018. Asked how long he’s known about the possible confinement facility, he said he began negotiations with Clifton in April of 2019.
Several attending the meeting criticized Leick for not sharing that information with neighbors. Responding, Leick suggested taking a 10-minute break after which he would be willing to auction the property to another buyer.
As the meeting closed shortly after 9 p.m., Julie Campbell offered a closing comment to Leick: “Don’t sell the ground to Mike (Clifton) and don’t put a chicken farm on it. You’ll be more respected.”