Wind turbines, eagles, and a moratorium discussed at hog hearing

The Greene County board of supervisors got some schooling on eagles, wind turbines and hog confinements April 4 at a public hearing on a proposed expansion of an existing hog confined feeding operation in Section 18 of Junction Township.

Bruce and Jenny Wessling plan to build a second building at the site, with ownership of the new building assigned to their daughter Jolee, a 2015 Greene County High School graduate. The building will double capacity at the site, bringing it to 5,000 hogs. The first building at the site was erected in 2004.

The site scored 450 on the master matrix, with a minimum of 440 needed for approval by the Iowa DNR. In recent months, the supervisors have taken issue with proposed confinements that did not include landscaping and/or a closure plan on their master matrix. The Wessling matrix includes a closure plan but not a plan for landscaping.

According to Becky Sexton of Twin Lakes Environmental Services, preparer of the plan for the Wesslings, they plan to add landscaping next spring but do not at this time want to make that commitment to the DNR. The Wesslings own another award-winning hog CAFO near their home farm. That site is landscaped, and the supervisors were willing to assume the second site will be landscaped as well.

In a slightly different twist to the “usual” CAFO public hearing, Kirk Kraft and Kevin Lehs, representing RPM Access, owner of the 25-turbine Rippey wind farm, told of potential hazards when hog confinements are located near wind turbines.

According to Kraft, hog carcasses attract scavengers like bald eagles, hawks, turkey vultures and other raptors. Additionally, the endangered Indiana brown bats feed on the insects that swarm on carcases. The Fish and Wildlife Service is interested in any activity within 10 miles of a wind turbine as it could impact wildlife. The Wessling site is 1-1/2 miles from the furthest west wind turbine.

Kraft said he attended the public hearing to “begin the dialog” with the Wesslings about disposal of carcasses, as raptors attracted to the carcasses are in danger of flying into the wind turbines. Lehs told of having to shut down the turbines at one wind farm for three days due to eagles coming to feed on hog carcasses.

Bruce Wessling assured Kraft and Lehs that the rendering service he uses is prompt and carcasses are not a problem.

Jeanne Myers, who owns nearby property in Grant Township, asked why the Wesslings were expanding at that location.

Patti Edwardson, who has often spoken at hog confinement public hearings, again addressed the supervisors. “I’m not here today to ask you to deny the request from the Wessling hog facility. The Wessling family is a wonderful member of our community and they manage their hog facilities as good as anyone can,” she said.

She asked the supervisors to think in broader terms, saying that even the best run facilities have inherent problems. She asked the supervisors to consider a moratorium on all expansions and new hog confinements in the county. “A moratorium would get the attention of state leaders and push them to strengthen Iowa’s oversight on this powerful industry. It would also allow time to investigate avenues for young farmers to plan, and it would take away the fear, at least temporarily, so many rural residents have that another confinement will be built near them,” she said. “Enacting a moratorium would show that we, the residents of Greene County, value our farmland, our farmers, and our future generations.”

Board chair John Muir responded, “I don’t think it’s our decision to take that right away, but I will support discussions with the state that the matrix needs to be amended. More and more people are realizing the matrix is outdated and needs to be looked at.”

Kate Neese and Sheila Hebenstreit spoke on behalf of the Wesslings. Neese and her husband Alan employ wage earners from 26 families year-round and from another 10 families seasonally with Neese Inc, a business that originated as a commercial manure hauler. “We want to keep young people in our community… this is how we do it,” she said about Jolee Wessling’s ownership of the proposed building.

Hebenstreit said it was she who nominated the Wesslings for the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers’ Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award in 2012. The Wesslings also won the National Environmental Award in 2014.

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