County Supervisors, environmental health wrestle with hot issue
County supervisors spent time this week figuring out how a new livestock bill may affect Buena Vista County.
Kim Johnson, director of environmental health and zoning, met with the board to discuss the potential changes and new county duties.
Some of the major changes include the need for the county to publish notice of all proposed animal feeding operations over 2,500 head, and some inspection duties previously not required.
Previously, only operations with 4,000 or more animals had to go through the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources permitting process.
While those are requirements under the new legislation, the county cannot assess fees for anything they do, Johnson said.
Some supervisors questioned how much the county can do with limited budgets and staff.
"We have responsibilities, but no authority," said Supervisor Jim Gustafson.
There are some requirements all counties need to do in regards to public notices, while on-site county inspections and permit evaluation are required only if the board adopts a resolution, Johnson said.
"It gives us a little oversight on where they are going or at least what's going on before they're constructed," she said.
Required under the legislation, producers applying for construction permits must inform the board of supervisors, which will then contact the DNR about the producer's notification, Johnson said.
The county is then required to publish a notice of the construction permit, including information such as the name of the applicant, the township where it will be located, the type of confinement, the number of animal units, where citizens can review the plans, as well as the procedure for public comment, Johnson said.
The board also may hold a public meeting on the proposed facility, she said.
Information supervisors may contribute includes the existence of an object not on the application, the suitability of soils, the availability of land or any impediment to drainage.
Further input may be submitted by the county if the board of supervisors adopts a Construction Evaluation Resolution.
"If you do that, you may evaluate the construction permit on a matrix," Johnson said.
The matrix is a statistical evaluation tool to determine whether or not a construction permit should be approved. A final matrix has not been developed, but likely will cover areas such as location and separation distances, and the type of structure built for the proposed operation including the manure storage structure.
Criteria will also be included for county supervisors to value environmental and community impacts.
However, the legislation keeps total local control out of the hands of the county, with the DNR still maintaining final say on a project.
"The county may state its approval or disapproval," Johnson said.
Also, if the county passes the resolution, it must do matrix scoring on all construction permits. "You cannot be selective," Johnson said.
The county may contest any DNR decision, however.
The board of supervisors may also appoint a county employee to accompany DNR employees for on-site inspections.
"We get the chance to evaluate it in addition to them (DNR)," Johnson said. "But we have to do it on all applications if you adopt the resolution."
Johnson said one of her biggest duties if the new legislation is signed into law will be examining manure management plans to ensure there are no operators applying on the same land.
Other components of the measure include the requirement for the county to provide all information regarding its recommendation and comments to any resident who requests it. Plus, the county must pass the Construction Evaluation Resolution if it wants to be notified by the DNR of its decision regarding permit applications.
Johnson urged the supervisors to a special statewide broadcast on May 7 titled "Understanding Livestock Issues: Role and Responsibilities of Local Officials." The ISU Extension sponsored seminar covers air and water quality issues and what role the county plays in them.