Webster County Supervisors receive complaints

Some county residents say they want hog confinement decision appealed

FORT DODGE – Emotions ran high Tuesday morning as some county residents berated the Webster County Board of Supervisors for not appealing the decision to allow two hog confinements to be built near Duncombe.

Although the meeting’s agenda said the supervisors would reconsider appealing both confinements, the supervisors said Tuesday that the deadline had passed to appeal one.

The deadline to appeal the other one was Tuesday afternoon.

Supervisor Keith Dencklau again put the item on the agenda, asking the other supervisors to contest the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ decision, but in a repeat of last week’s outcome no one seconded his motion.

About 13 people, most of them Duncombe residents, expressed their disappointment with the supervisors, with some criticizing them for not doing more.

“To me this matrix is trampling our civil rights,” said Duncombe resident David Haynes. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Pat Nelson asked if any of the supervisors had been threatened to make them vote this way, adding that threatening to sue in order to compel them to vote a certain way would have been illegal.

Except for Dencklau, the supervisors said they never have been threatened.

“I can say I have been on the phone. I can’t prove it,” Dencklau said. “It’s my word against theirs. … As soon as I was threatened by an attorney I said ‘I guess this conversation is over.'”

Dencklau did not say who had allegedly threatened him.

Nelson asserted supervisors in other counties have told her they have been threatened over confinements as well.

“I can tell you in my district I have more confinements than anybody. Not one time has any of the operators or owners threatened me, or changed my mind,” Supervisor Mark Campbell said. “In fact they’ve been really good to work with when we’ve gone down and said is there a way we can compromise?

“We’re fortunate right now we have some good operators in Webster County that are willing to do some things, because I’ve talked to the same supervisors you have, that have other owners and operators that aren’t as flexible as the ones we have currently.”

To repeated questions of why they would not appeal the decision, the supervisors said they were relying on the advice of the county attorney.

Webster County Attorney Jennifer Benson said she’d discussed the matter with Assistant Iowa Attorney General Eric Tabor, and he concurred with the advice Benson had previously given.

Benson said, “We do have the right to appeal and the ability to appeal, but he agreed it would likely not be successful. He echoed what you said; in the future perhaps some education to the citizens about the right to appeal could be helpful.”

In spite of concerns brought by the citizens about air quality, one site being less than a mile from Duncombe, and the potential for damage to Brushy Creek State Recreation Area lake, the supervisors said an appeal would likely go nowhere since both sites got a passing score on the master matrix.

Board Chair Merrill Leffler said in his opinion, filing this appeal would make things worse.

“I take the county attorney’s recommendation that it’s mostly likely not winnable. I also personally have taken into some consideration what the other effects will be,” Leffler said. “Some other counties have appealed these and it’s actually made it worse, in my opinion for those counties to try to fight this as a whole. Because the DNR gets mad at you, the EPA gets mad at you, everybody gets mad at you. The producers get mad.

“I’m still looking as a whole to try to fight this, and get the matrix opened up and changed the way most of us think it needs to be, to correct this in the future.”

The supervisors reiterated that they have been doing what they can to fight these two sites, but their options are limited.

Campbell represents District 2, the southern portion of the county including the Gowrie area, where a third hog confinement was proposed at the same time as the two near Duncombe. The supervisors received little or no opposition to that site, and passed it with little discussion at their Nov. 14 meeting.

Campbell and Leffler both talked of the importance of working with everyone, including working with hog producers.

“There are some good producers, there are some very bad producers in my opinion,” Leffler said.

“It’s not an ‘us against them.’ We’re all in this,” Campbell said. “No matter what, we have to realize we’re all ag-based here. We’re all trying to figure out a way for this to work for everybody.”

On Dec. 14, Dencklau spoke with The Messenger and said the supervisors would appeal the DNR’s decision on these two sites.

At the next meeting on Dec. 20, the supervisors considered doing so, but ultimately none of the other supervisors seconded Dencklau’s motion to send the appeal.

The board could have appealed to the state’s Environmental Protection Commission, which hears appeals of Iowa Department of Natural Resources actions. The DNR determined the sites had met all legal criteria to be issued a construction permit.

Two of the letters from the DNR were received Dec. 8, and the other received Dec. 11, leading to the difference in appeal deadlines, County Auditor Doreen Pliner said.

The supervisors voted unanimously on Nov. 14 to ask the DNR not to approve the two sites, while also acknowledging the sites had scored enough points to pass the state’s master matrix.