It’s a story that’s becoming far too familiar in Iowa: Hundreds of protesters filled St. John’s Church in Mineola Monday night to air their concerns about a proposed chicken confinement operation that would be located along the Pottawattamie-Mills County line about one mile north of Mineola.
The preliminary plan presented to the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors last week indicated the facility’s developer, Mike Clifton, plans to raise 200,000 to 220,000 broilers in eight confinement barns every eight weeks. The facility would raise and ship a million to 1.5 million chickens annually.
The concerns raised during the meeting were numerous. They included the odor of the manure generated by that many birds every eight weeks; the increased traffic on — and damage to — Applewood Road and 253rd Street from the semis that would be using those two county roads to get to the confinement facility; and the possibility of contamination in an area with a relatively high water table.
“We are not anti-farm, but we are against this type of an operation,” said Molly George, who helped organize the gathering of neighbors and concerned citizens who were basically blindsided by last week’s news that Clifton was moving forward with getting approval for the facility from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“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.”
Supervisors last week voted 4-0 to recommend that Iowa DNR officials deny approval of the plan, but that recommendation is not binding on the state board.
In order to be considered by Iowa DNR officials, Clifton’s proposal must score a minimum of 440 points on a so-called Master Matrix which assigns points to various components of the proposal’s plan. When plans for the eight-barn confinement facility were scored by DNR officials, the score was 480 — well above the required 440.
During the meeting, Jon Jacobsen, who represents area residents in the Iowa House, said that DNR officials have yet to vote on the proposal. He also noted that county supervisors can appeal if the project is approved by the DNR; and two Pottawattamie County Supervisors who attended Monday’s meeting said they would appeal should the DNR approve the proposal.
Council Bluffs lawyer Dean Jennings, who attended the meeting at Jacobsen’s request, said there are legal avenues available to area residents in the event of an unsuccessful challenge, but he emphasized that it could be a costly fight.
Agriculture should rightly be considered the backbone of Iowa’s economy, but the face of agriculture is changing. Small family owned farming operations are being replaced with larger and larger operations. While that presents relatively few problems when the emphasis is on grain production, the growth of much larger, factory type cattle, hog, chicken and turkey operations generate concerns — and problems — lawmakers have yet to address.
Area residents complained — and rightfully so — they were not informed about the proposal until the 11th hour. They complained — and rightfully so — about the potential odors that would be created and the potential negative impact on their property values. They complained — and rightfully so — about the developer’s lack of experience in managing so large a facility. They complained — and rightfully so — about the potential impact of locating a factory chicken farm adjacent to the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, a prime attraction for area residents and visitors alike.
“This is industry, this isn’t farming,” said Pottawattamie County Supervisor Scott Belt. We agree. It should not be located where the developer has proposed.
At the same time, whether we like it or not, these factory farming operations are part of the new face of agriculture in Iowa. It’s time for Iowa lawmakers to address that new reality with laws that better protect the residents of the state.
In the meantime, the local challenge to halt the current proposed chicken confinement facility should be supported by all parties. The proposed site is not the right place for such a facility.