CORRECTION: This story has been changed to include the full name of Steve Smolik, who is a Mitchell County Supervisor.
The Mitchell County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 on July 2 to recommend the state approve a permit for a proposed hog confinement, despite objections from an environmental organization.
Darrell Hunt from Iowa Select Farms said the company's construction permit application for a proposed new confinement facility for nearly 5,000 hogs in the eastern portion of the county near McIntire "got good points" on the state's master matrix scoring system for confined animal feeding operations.
Hunt told the supervisors the company intends to go "above and beyond" state requirements – including the planting of trees – to help reduce odor and make the site "less offensive."
However, Osage resident Penney Morse told the supervisors she asked staff members from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement to review the application, and they had several objections to the scoring.
The Iowa CCI staff members said 155 points should be taken off, leaving just 350 points – which is not enough to pass.
Morse said the information Iowa Select provided is "overly vague, lacking in site-specific substantive details, full of omissions and oversights" and is generally insufficient.
Morse also said Iowa Select failed to regulate a depopulated facility in September 2018, resulting in the overflow of a manure pit.
Private wells in Mitchell County are already contaminated, according to Morse.
She said DNR data shows of the 926 wells in the county tested between 2002 and 2017, 281 had elevated nitrate levels, 405 were contaminated with bacteria and 179 had elevated nitrate and bacteria levels.
The supervisors are not required by law to approve CAFO applications just because companies say they pass the master matrix, according to Morse.
Iowa CCI, which is based in Des Moines, submitted a letter to Mitchell County officials outlining in more detail the organization's objections to the matrix scoring.
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For example, Iowa CCI claims 50 points should be deducted because Iowa Select failed to show enough evidence that separation distances from the proposed confinement and drainage wells, known sinkholes or major water sources will exceed the minimum requirement of 1,000 feet.
"A screen shot from Google Earth is not sufficient proof," the letter states.
Iowa CCI also claims he board of supervisors are at no risk of being sued by Iowa Select "for doing their job."
County supervisors can remove points from a matrix score if they choose to do so, according to Iowa CCI.
The letter states there are documented cases across the state where both a county board of supervisors and the DNR have denied points due to descriptions being too vague.
Iowa CCI also claims counties can ask the DNR to deny a permit due to community concerns or other reasons.
Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk said, "I believe at best this letter is misleading and at worst it is simply not true."
The county could be sued by Iowa Select if it recommends the DNR reject its permit application because "you look at the matrix, that's it," he said.
Walk also said Iowa CCI did not provide any authority for statements in its letter.
"If someone wants to provide me authority for these statements (in the letter), I would be happy to listen," Walk said.
Supervisor Barb Francis cast the lone "no" vote on recommending the state approve the Iowa Select permit.
She said she wants the county to send a letter to the Iowa Legislature and the DNR requesting changes in the master matrix scoring system. Mitchell County Supervisor Steve Smolik said that would be a good idea.