At its Monday meeting, the Clay County Board of Health made a motion requesting that the Clay County supervisors pass a resolution for a one-year moratorium on construction of any new confined animal feeding operations in Clay County.
Such a moratorium would apply to "any new construction or activity occurring on land used for the production, care, feeding or housing of animals with the exception of variances granted by the Clay County Board of Supervisors."
According to Clay County Assistant Attorney Mike Houchins, this wording may need to be "tightened-up" so that it applies to large confinement operations, and not to local farmers who simply have animals on their farms.
"Between now and when this resolution is brought up at the board of supervisors meeting on April 2, there needs to be a discussion as to whether this is going to be a broad moratorium as recommended by the board of health or if the moratorium will be worded just to address large CAFO's (confined animal feeding operations)."
According to Houchins, the current wording could apply to a farmer who wants to build a barn for several horses or a dog kennel.
Clay County Board of Health chairperson Mary Lou Reed said the board decided to request a moratorium after hearing from County Sanitarian Tammy McKeever, who presented portions of the Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Air Quality Study, which was completed in February.
Reed said the decision was also based on legal advice. The county supervisors had asked the health officials to look into the issue. According to McKeever, she has had over 40 calls asking whether Clay County has an ordinance or moratorium against large livestock developments.
"The county assessor's office has also gotten a number of calls," said McKeever. "The people calling are trying to get away from counties which already have a CAFO ordinance or moratorium."
On February 19, the Cerro Gordo County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution for a one year moratorium on any new confinements with the option of extending it to another year if there is not enough data to establish a "good" ordinance.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors passed the same resolution. However, Franklin County's moratorium did not originate from its board of health, unlike that of Cerro Gordo County.
At this time, Franklin County is involved in litigation over the passage of this moratorium after a Franklin County hog farmer asked a judge to declare the action unconstitutional. A hearing is scheduled in Franklin County on Wednesday to discuss the matter in more detail. "There is the possibility that Clay County could get sued for passing CAFO moratorium," said Houchins. "I know this is a concern of our board of health and the board of supervisors. Our office will defend this moratorium if we have to."
According to Houchins, passing a CAFO moratorium in Clay County would give the county time to work toward devising its own CAFO ordinance. He said this is one of the main reasons other counties, such as Cerro Gordo and Franklin, have also passed resolutions to implement a CAFO moratorium. In regard to establishing a CAFO ordinance, Houchins said there are only certain things which a county can include within such an ordinance without being in violation of Iowa Code. "It is my opinion that the county cannot regulate the placement or location of CAFO's (confined animal feeding operations).", based on an Iowa Supreme court case which was decided in 1998 in Humboldt County," said Houchins. "For this reason, I would not recommend an ordinance in Clay County for regulating placement and location." Houchins said he doesn't see a problem with Clay County adopting an ordinance to monitor air emissions, water pollution and worker safety. "It's going to cost some money to do this," said Houchins. "We would need money for staffing and equipment, but I don't think we can put the burden on the producers for covering the cost of monitoring their emissions. The initial costs and monitoring need to be borne by the county."
Attending Monday's board of health meeting were a number of area farmers, including Joel Hartmann, who operates a livestock operation near Everly. "I am not opposed to a clean environment by any means," he said. "but, if the supervisors aren't careful about how they word a CAFO ordinance, they will end up doing the county more harm than good."
Another area farmer, Douglas Rutter, who farms just south of Spencer, said he is a fifth-generation farmer and is very concerned about how a moratorium or ordinance could impact area CAFO's (confined animal feeding operations).".
"I want to know if farmers can raise hogs in Iowa or not," he said. " A moratorium is the kiss of death for livestock farmers and agriculture as a whole. Who are we going to feed this corn to?"
On the other side of the fence in regard to a CAFO moratorium is Dwight Rutter, who also attended Monday's meeting. Dwight said he is 100 percent in favor of such a moratorium. "It is a basic human right to have fresh air, fresh water and the right to have a say in what happens in your community."
The request from the board of health for a resolution on a CAFO moratorium is on the agenda for the Clay County Board of Supervisors meeting to be held on April 2. At that time the board has the option of passing a resolution that will create a moratorium, according to Clay County Auditor Marge Pitts.