Republican Russ Eddie, a longtime representative who has played a large part in maintaining Iowa's laws favoring confinement development and preventing local control, has not softened his stance over time. He tells us he is afraid that local control would bring things to a "standstill" for the rural area. "There are a lot of young people raising hogs that sure wouldn't be if we had local control," he said.
Making his second run for office is Gary Meier Jr. representing the Reform Party, who said that one of the major reasons he is seeking Eddie's seat is that he wants to see large confinement facilities governed as industry rather than farms. "It is very important that we keep local control and local input," he tells us.
And Democrat Sue Morrow seemingly occupies more middle ground, calling for stronger environmental controls for the DNR to use in determinations on confinement facilities, but also feeling some local control could be added as a component. "That issue has to be addressed - local control needs to be brought back so we can control our own destiny." While she said it's "the hottest issue" she hears people talking about in the area, the legislature needs to be careful in its response.
If the issue wasn't hot enough, it is brought to a hard boil locally this season by the huge egg-breaking facility planned by Rembrandt Enterprises and opposed by a number of area residents.
As petitioners found out, there is no such thing as local control. County officials are absolutely powerless, and DNR officials have only a set of standards for construction and water to work with. The company carefully planned to meet those, and so will build regardless of opposition. It would be alarmist to assume that such a facility will automatically have dire effects on the local environment; somewhat foolish to insist that 30 buildings, considerable transportation, four million birds and their waste would have no impact on the face of the rural area.
Indeed, every one of the three candidates makes valid points on this issue.
If not for confinement development, as Eddie points out, there would be little opportunity for development at all in some rural areas of Iowa. It is jobs, it is tax base. We can't overlook the positive benefits of agribusiness growth, and we can't bring back smallacreage farming as it was 50 years ago.
As Meier said, however, at some point big confinement facilities do stop looking like farms and start looking more like factories, and they should be treated more like industry in terms of regulation and zoning.
And as Morrow points out, Iowa's environmental laws in this arena are weak, and the time to do something about it is not after groundwater has become contaminated and nuisance conditions make rural home areas unliveable.
Eddie says that local control "is not the answer." If there is an environmental problem, the DNR has all the power to go stop an operation, he says.
That's fine and good - if you want to wait for an environmental disaster before you do something. Eddie feels the state should hold all control. On the plus side, that maintains one consistent set of rules statewide; on the minus side, the people who know their home area best have no say on what becomes of it.
We feel there eventually must be some element of local control to go with strengthened state regulation, and we can't accept any notion that local authorities are incapable of judiciously playing a role in our own self-determination.
County supervisors are currently debating whether to ask for an attorney general's decision on whether the egg breaking facility can be considered an industry instead of an ag land use, which could potentially give them a stronger zoning regulatory platform. If they do, it could be a precedent watched carefully around the state. Within that issue, there may be fertile ground for a compromise for future legislation.
The legislature would not be doing us a service to respond with extreme regulation that would in effect prevent livestock development from a viable opportunity to go into areas where it is desired. Nor would it be wise to continue to give virtual cart blanche to unlimited numbers of animals/birds per acre of land.
That balance is hard to express as a candidate. On this issue, some want to hear it all one way, some all the other, in handy little sound bites. It is much too vital an issue for Iowa's future to be handled that way.
It will take political representatives who are willing to listen, prepared to compromise, and who see value in both local and state expertise; necessity in both growth and preservation.
Our children's children may well be feeling the impact from the next batch of electees' combined
ability - or inability - to achieve this balance.