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SL Rep. worries over hog issue free-for-all

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

State legislators are not eager to wade back into a never-ending debate on bg livestock confinements, despite pleas for help from envionmental leaders.

"Any time we get into that, it's just a free-for-all," says Gary Worthan, state representative from Storm Lake. "There is no simple answer on where to go with this issue."

Worthan said that he is increasingly worried that regulation will begin to drive livestock, a backbone industry for Iowa, out of the state.

"If we change the rules much more, we will really limit the ability to produce livestock in the state of Iowa," Worthan said.

With setback requirements and limited distance to effectively haul manure, and more former urban residents developing homes in the countryside, there may soon be no place left for a livestock producer to build, he says.

"So many people want to move out to the country and live on an acreage, and every time they do, there is a setback applied from their property to limit where the farmer can build," Worthan said. "Closer to Storm Lake, we're already at the point where it would be a challenge to find anyplace to go."

Worthan said his own neighbor, who has a 1,200 head hog facility, was unable to complete his plan to expand because a house was put up across the road, applying new setback limits to the producer's property. He ended up having to build far from his own site.

"It's a different situation than ever before. There are so many people living in rural Iowa now who are not involved in ag, and they don't want to be able to smell ag smells. Personally, I have 10,000 hogs within two miles of my house, and I can only remember one time that I was able to smell it," Worthan said.

Last winter's attempt at legislation could have been disasterous, according to the local representative.

"The way the bill was written, if you bought two acres across from a livestock operation, the livestock couldn't be there, even though the producer was there first - that's the kind of mindset that is out there," Worthan said. "If this gets opened up again, it's going to be a mess."

While Iowa struggles with the concept of local control in livestock permit approval, it is not the issue many people believe it to be, at least according to Worthan.

"The majority of county supervisors - at least the majority that I have spoken to, don't want anything to do with local control. They say they don't have the expertise to make those decisions, or the money to do the kind of studies that would be needed. This often comes down to a neighbor vs. neighbor decision, and that's not something a local county supervisor really wants to get in between."

Lawmakers have struggled with livestock controversy for over ten years, since the move began to larger and larger operations to replace small family feedlots. Opponents say the operations foul the air and water, while producers note that the state is responsible for 25 percent of the entire nation's output of pork. A controversial matrix system of judging confinement permit applications was formed as a compromise in 2002. Lawmakers at the time were accused of formulating many of the details in closed, secret meetings.

The matter came to a head again in mid-August, when the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission denied permits for two large hog operations in Dallas County, although they met every existing regulation for such developments under the state's own laws.

Landmark lawsuits are likely over the decision, as EPC officials call on legislators to revamp the system.

"We need the legislature to change the law," said Henry Marquard, who heads the commission.

"We obviously have some problems there, but I'm not sure the Legislature will wade into this," said Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, Sioux City.

Worthan says the EPC has overstepped its bounds by denying the right to build to producers who have met every regulation.

"The EPC basically made a political decision, and now they want to force the legislature to do something to back them up," the Storm Lake Republican said.

The problem isn't the regulations, but in the mismanagemen of some operations, Worthan feels.

"Emotions have gotten involved, with some reason. I can show you some very well-run hog operations that are much better neighbors than some others. All it takes is one poorly-run livestock operation to create a nusiance and ruin the reputation for the industry in an entire county," he said.

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