It was standing room only as area residents gathered in the Spencer Area Activity Center for what had been deemed "an informational meeting" about a handful of the potential impacts associated with hog confinement buildings. As attendees entered the meeting - which was in reaction to Prairie States Management Company's proposal to build four, and possibly up to 13, confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) facilities approved to house up to 2,480 head of wean-to-finish hogs over the next 24 months - they were offered the opportunity to sign a petition opposing "commercial hog factory sites" in Clay County.
The petition, in part, read: "We, the undersigned residents of Clay County, value our rural communities, our small, local family farms, and quality of life. Threats to our air, water and land by (the) commercial hog factory industry are not being addressed. ... Therefore, we, the undersigned, strongly oppose the uncontrolled expansion and the ever-increasing number of new commercially-owned and -managed hog factory sites proposed here in Clay County."
Thursday's meeting on what has turned into a "hot button" issue was sponsored by a group calling itself Clay County Citizens for Healthy Communities.
The evening's speakers included Chris Petersen, a Clear Lake farmer who leads the Iowa Farmers Union, Donna Buell, a Spirit Lake attorney, Darryl Halling, a Milford resident who deems himself an "active environmentalist," Dave Murphy, a central Iowan who sits on the board of Iowa Network for Local Control (INLC), and Chris Murphy, the rural Lake Park president of INLC.
"I hope that tonight we can have a very civil discussion," Dave Murphy said as he welcomed those who'd gathered. "I know there are people here who either have hog confinements themselves or will be building them. We respect your right to have a business. Really, we're here today because we want to find a legislative solution so we can live side by side as neighbors."
Murphy's sister Chris rallied two years ago against the proposed erection of a 4,800-head hog confinement one mile from her Dickinson County home.
"We realized that there was nothing we could do," she said. "We were powerless over the laws of Iowa. And, we realized that we had to wage an educational campaign and try to change the state laws of Iowa."
She said those gathered were not "anti-hog," but pro local control.
A slide presentation highlighted the American Public Health Association's recommendation for a moratorium on all new CAFO constructions.
"CAFOs are not economically sound when you consider the community as a whole," Buehl said, claiming property value decreases.
Cedric Winterboer, a fourth-generation Clay County farmer, took the microphone - claiming the meeting was not informational, but political rehetoric. He wanted answers on the projects' economic impact, and the level that odor would be a health risk. People are "going to be in fear if they don't know the facts," he said.