Warren, Illinois – On November 15, 2012, the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) announced a proposed settlement agreement between the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Traditions megadairy owner/investor, A.J. Bos of Bakersfield, California. According to the terms of the settlement, Bos will abandon the site in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, where the Traditions facility was being constructed. Workers are already land-applying the remaining liquids contained in the partially constructed manure ponds and digester pit to prepare the land for sale.
“Stopping this dangerous project would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of HOMES and their supporters. Never before in my work in Illinois and across the country have I witnessed a community succeeding in halting the construction of an industrial livestock production facility after groundbreaking,” says Danielle Diamond, Attorney for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water and Executive Director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.
This unprecedented achievement effectively ends a five-year, multi-million dollar battle between Bos and Jo Daviess County family farmers and residents, who were determined to evict the gigantic animal factory to protect their clean drinking water, clean air, and way of life. The megadairy operation was sited atop fragile karst bedrock, which could allow countless tons of waste and liquid manure to contaminate groundwater.
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Linn County factory farms under fire, The Gazette, Nov. 21, 2012By Steve Gravelle
Unless you make an effort to buy from small local farmers, chances are your last meat purchase came not from a traditional farm, but from a large animal-confinement operation.
Confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, mean different things to different Iowans.
Farm groups see relentlessly efficient, high-density livestock operations as agriculture’s future, but to critics they’re symbolic of corporate-driven industrial agriculture hollowing out rural communities.
To would-be neighbors, they can be at best a nuisance, at worst a threat to their way of life. That’s how a group of rural Center Point residents undertook a crash course in CAFOs and the laws regulating them.
“You just learn really fast what the steps are,” said Regina Behmlander.
Behmlander, her husband Chris, and their three sons moved from Marion to a rural acreage about two years ago. The Behmlanders and neighbors launched a campaign this fall against an application by Matt Ditch of Center Point for a 5,661-hog CAFO two miles northwest of their home.
On Nov. 14, Ditch withdrew his application after neighbors convinced county supervisors to challenge several points on his master matrix, a score card of environmental and safety requirements the Iowa Department of Natural Resources uses to determine a proposed operation’s fitness.
It was the first successful challenge in Linn County since the state adopted the matrix process in 2003, said Les Beck, the county’s planning and development director. Livestock operations established before 2003 were “grandfathered” into the law.
The master matrix was adopted after legislative action in which lawmakers, stakeholders and the DNR tried to balance the interests of local government, rural residents and agriculture.
“A lot of different organizations, a lot of different individuals had input designing that matrix to be fair and to keep our environment safe,” said Brian Waddingham, executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa Farmers, a consortium of commodity and livestock groups. “I personally think it’s worked very well.”
But not all groups agree the master matrix does enough.
“We did not feel that it went far enough and restored enough local power to counties,” said Dave Goodner, rural community organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “We’ve been very successful using it as tool to stop proposed factory farms, but our number-one priority is to increase oversight” of big feeding operations.
“I would say the (matrix) process doesn’t work at all,” said Behmlander. “It’s very much slanted in corporate farms’ favor, and the smaller farmer is left with very little recourse.”
The matrix process and DNR’s rules apply to all livestock operations of more than 1,000 cattle or 2,500 hogs. They also apply to large dairy and poultry farms.
Ditch, who didn’t return calls for comment, could resubmit his application after changes to address the matrix issues cited by county supervisors. Or he could establish a smaller feeding operation below the 2,500-hog standard.
Before the master matrix process, the state had issued 923 CAFO permits through the end of 2002, 49 of them to open feedlots, said Gene Tinker, the DNR’s animal feeding operations coordinator in the agency’s Manchester office. There are now 2,553 active permits, 243 of them held by open feedlots.
Economy woes cut new CAFO permits to just more than 100 in both 2009 and 2010, including new storage facilities required under new manure-disposal rules. But activity picked up last year when the state issued permits to 324 new operations. More than 800 permits were issued in 2006.
The matrix process could be changed as the state responds to a finding by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that its rules, specifically the CAFO permitting process, don’t adequately protect water quality. In 2003, 42 manure spills were reported to the DNR. There were 59 reported spills last year, but just 13 through July 31 this year.
Any changes will be the subject of public hearings across the state, “and we’ll be able to weigh in on that,” said Goodner. He said his group also plans to lobby in support of boosting the DNR’s budget $1.2 million to hire more CAFO inspectors.
Master matrix at a glance
Adopted by the Department of Natural Resources in 2003, the master matrix is an appendix, often 80 pages or more, submitted with an application to construct and operate a confined animal feeding operation. An application receives points for meeting standards of construction, waste storage, distance from occupied buildings and public spaces, manure management and safety plans, and other factors. An application must score at least 440 points to qualify for a permit. County supervisors may challenge an applicant’s matrix before it’s forwarded to the DNR.