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DNR okays Rembrandt Enterprises expansion

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Residents' concerns have no effect on state permit process

The Department of Natural Resources has given preliminary approval for a major expansion at Rembrandt Enterprises chicken-and-egg plant, and judged that a laundry list of concerns from residents of the area should have no impact on the decision.

The permit for the expansion saw some controversy from neighbors who feel their quality of life and property values are being compromised. The county board of supervisors on a split vote agreed to recommend approval of the permit, since the project met state requirements for scoring under the new "Master Matrix" system.

At a meeting today, supervisors will receive the DNR approval for the project, which includes a 565-by-80-feet pullet confinement building and 150-by-80-foot dry manure storage building. The expansion will allow for 408,000 more pullet birds on the site, bringing the total to 940,000 pullets and over 1.2 million pounds of animal weight capacity. The company will have one year's time to begin construction under the permit.

The DNR also requires that a drainage system be built at the new facilities to ensure the separation between the stored manure and the high point of the underground water table.

Supervisor Jim Gustafson, the lone member of the board to oppose the permit recommendation, said he isn't surprised that the DNR did not consider the public comments.

"That's typical," he said. "It's hard to win in these things."

A member of the original committee that created the matrix system, Gustafson said he thinks the system needs to be "tweaked" on environmental risks. "You seldom get things perfect the first time, and that is no criticism against anyone. I think there are some flaws."

Gustafson claims that Rembrandt Enterprises will earn exemptions under current regulations that will exempt them from about $40,000 per year in property taxes in the county.

While the permit system allows for appeals, there is little point since the county supervisors have already voted in favor of recommending the permit, the supervisor said.

"There isn't any more I can do, except to let people know that they probably need to complain more and document more if they feel livestock developments are hurting them," he said. "I hope that as time goes on, we won't find that we've done the right thing here."

Gustafson said he has mixed feelings on the project. "They are a good company and they pay competitive wages. It isn't the egg production that is a potential problem for us here, it's the manure. The manure is okay while it's in that building, but when it's hauled out, it becomes a problem, and if too much is applied to the land, it's a big problem.

"I hope people realize that chicken manure is high in phosphorus, and that can cause problems with algae in out lakes and streams," he said.

"Literally, it's the manure that stinks in this process."

After the DNR decision, people may be angry that their concerns were not considered toward the permit application process, and Gustafson said he can't blame them.

"If I don't want to live by this operation, I sure don't see that I can make judgements and tell people that it's okay for them to have to live with it - that Rembrandt Enterprises has met all the guidelines, so that's it," Gustafson said. "I think that the DNR can't expect that either, and I suspect that people are going to be watching very closely."

The DNR responded in writing to some of the residents' concerns, which were forwarded to the state by the BV supervisors:

* 1. Concern over the concentration of birds - DNR officials said that state law does not limit the number of birds on a single site, although it does factor into the scoring on the matrix system. The comments were given no consideration on approval of the permit.

* 2. Concern over chicken manure amounts and waste-water from washing eggs - DNR officials said the manure is being sold for land application, so will be regulated by the Department of Agriculture, not the DNR. Rembrandt Enterprises has complied with a manure management plan, and there is no egg washing wastewater produced at the site. The comments will not effect the permit process.

* 3. Concern about dead birds allegedly thrown on area cropland - DNR officials said the company is composting dead birds mixed with manure in their buildings, and land application is not allowed until the birds are decomposed to the point of being "gone," under conditions provided by the DNR. The comments will not effect the permit process.

* 4. Concerns about air pollution - DNR officials noted that while Iowa regulations do not apply to air quality at animal feeding operations, "the department recognizes that exposure to ammonia and hydrogin sulfide emissions over an extended duration may put people at risk to experiencing unwanted health effects," such as respiratory problems, eye irritation, dizziness, coughing and headaches. Since the legislature nullified standards for those chemicals, operations cannot be held to any standards on such pollutants. Again, the concerns were judged not to effect the permit application.

* 5. Concern over odor from manure and carcasses - DNR officials said the facility meets or exceeds all of the state setback requirements. Comments will not effect the permit application.

* 5. Concerns over the company being controlled by Minnesota businesspeople but not "located in their backyard" and concerns over loss of area property values - DNR officials said the department has no control of these issues.

* 6. Concern over impact on the Little Sioux River - DNR officials said the river is three miles from the plant, many times the required distance of 1,000 feet. The master matrix system allows extra points for long distances to major water sources.

* 7. Concern for impact on the Raccoon River watershed and phosphorus pollution - Iowa is still developing an index to regulate phosphorus, and it is not yet known when it will be completed, DNR officials said.

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