MASON CITY — Interest in construction or expansion of CAFOs — confined animal feeding operations — in North Iowa has more than doubled in the past two years and may be close to tripling by the end of this year.
Statistics from the Region 2 field office of the Department of Natural Resources, located in Mason City, show 95 permit applications or site approvals through Oct. 25, compared to 70 for all of last year and 43 for 2014.
Of the 95 this year, 53 are permit applications and 42 are site approvals for smaller operations where no permit is needed.
Cindy Garza, environmental engineer for the Region 2 field office, said once her office issues a final construction permit, the state considers the site approved.
Upon completion, she said, owners are required to submit construction certification and new well logs. After state officials receive those documents, they send an authorization letter to the owners.
“The overall trend is up for this part of the state,” Garza said, adding it is hard to pinpoint a reason. “There are so many factors in this business, and we are not privy to all of them.”
The Region 2 office covers Butler, Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Franklin, Grundy, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Humboldt, Kossuth, Mitchell, Webster, Winnebago, Worth and Wright counties.
CAFOs were at the heart of a controversy in Mason City earlier this year when a $240 million Prestage of Iowa pork processing plant was proposed for Mason City.
Opponents were concerned about, among other things, the possibility of CAFOs emerging throughout the countryside, creating environmental hazards and hurting property values.
On May 3, the Mason City Council voted 3-3 to reject a development agreement with Prestage, thereby killing the project.
Prestage then took its plans to Wright County where the Board of Supervisors approved a plan to have the plant built near Eagle Grove.
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In Cerro Gordo County there are about 50 existing CAFOs, mostly in the southern part of the county with one permit issued for a new one, according to Assistant Administrative Officer John Gibbons.
Permits authorized or approved for new construction throughout the area include: N & N Pork in Kossuth County; Frye Pork Resort LC and Windmill Place in Wright County; Eagle Pork 10 in Winnebago County; Valley Finisher Farm in Mitchell County; Dozer in Franklin County; Guerdet Farms in Kossuth County; Christiansen Pork in Winnebago County and River Edge LLC in Cerro Gordo County.
The River Edge application was approved over the objections of the Cerro Gordo County Board of Supervisors.
In August, supervisors, citing environmental concerns, recommended denial of the River Edge application for a hog processing operation near Ventura. The state Department of Natural Resources approved the application despite the county’s recommendation because River Edge met the requirements in a state matrix used to evaluate confinement applications.
The state matrix was approved by the Legislature in 2002, the creation of a bipartisan group of 12 legislators.
The county appealed the DNR decision to the Environmental Protection Commission which sided with the DNR. County officials have the option of taking an appeal to district court, their last recourse.
Administrative Officer Tom Drzycimski said Friday no decision has been made yet on challenging the commission’s vote.
This wasn’t the first time Cerro Gordo supervisors tried to exercise local control. In 2002 they approved an ordinance establishing a one-year moratorium on the building of confinement facilities with exceptions for expansions of up to 15 percent on existing facilities and exemptions for open feed lots.
By creating the moratorium, their intent was to stop the construction of a proposed chicken processing plant near Ventura as well as other large commercial operations without harming family farms.
Worth County had a similar ordinance that was challenged in court and eventually struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court. That prompted Cerro Gordo supervisors to repeal its moratorium, realizing it wouldn’t hold up in court.