~by Janice Harbaugh for GreeneCountyNewsOnline
The Greene County board of supervisors presided over an historic public hearing held through videoconferencing at their regular meeting on May 11. Forty people, including the board, electronically attended the hearing on the Stumpf Finishers, LLC application for a hog confinement in Highland Township.
Many of the attendees activated their video capabilities through Zoom and could be seen by other attendees. Questions were asked also by attendees signing in by telephone.
Todd Stumpf appeared on camera for much of the 90-minute hearing. Becky Sexton, representative from Twin Lakes Environmental who scored the Stumpf master matrix, answered some questions on camera and advised Stumpf off-camera.
Stumpf had little to no public support at the hearing for his application for construction. Three men spoke as character references, saying Stumpf is a good person. These were Mike Spencer of Carroll County, and Aaron Juergens and Gene Gourley of Hamilton County.
The only speaker to support the building of the hog confinement was John McCormick of Churdan, past president of the Greene County Farm Bureau, who said, “It will be good for jobs and tax revenue.”
Fifteen people spoke to register their strong opposition to his business enterprise in Greene County.
Several attendees objected to Stumpf, who lives at Twin Lakes in Calhoun County, coming to Greene County to, as they stated, pollute water, air, and land and make a profit from it. They pointed out the costs to the county of having a saturation of hog confinements.
Kathy Law spoke of concern about damage to gravel roads. County engineer Wade Weiss said the roads near the facility would have to be reinforced and the cost is borne by the county.
Joleen Killeen, mayor of Churdan, said, “The landscape is littered with hog confinements. We have enough. It’s time to say no.”
George Naylor questioned ultimate ownership of the project and where the wealth would end up instead of locally. “The hogs are owned by corporations. We don’t know who they are. Their purpose is to take wealth from rural Iowa, so they get bigger and bigger.”
Other attendees spoke about abrogation of personal rights, civil rights, and the right to enjoy their own land. Several questioned why the rights of a business venture affecting air, water, and county expenditures would be more important than the rights of others.
The hearing intensified when master matrix scores were discussed. Several attendees alleged the scores for Stumpf Finishers, LLC were inaccurate, falsified, or inflated.
Kathy Martin, working with several of the neighbors to the proposed Stumpf operation, challenged the awarding of points on the master matrix concerning uncontrolled gases, worker protection issues, worker safety, and biohazard concerns not addressed in the written plan.
Martin said there were 30 to 50 points in dispute and that could reduce the total number of points for Stumpf to a number below a passing score.
Dean Hoskins, neighbor to the Highland Township proposed operation and an engineer, said, “Revised points could bring the master matrix score to 285 points.” This would be far below the 440 points needed to pass.
The issues of disputed master matrix points gave way to discussion of the reputation for personal responsibility and integrity of Stumpf. Several attendees spoke of upsetting encounters with him, lack of communication, and instances of “dishonest communications.”
One speaker alleged Stumpf had tried to intimidate a local person over opposition to the operations. There was another allegation Becky Sexton had attempted intimidation of a local agronomist over his opposition to the confinement.
Neither Stumpf nor Sexton refuted the allegations.
During questioning and comments from the public, Stumpf was on-camera, though he possibly did not realize it. He sat with a non-responsive look on his face, occasionally rolled his eyes at the remarks of a speaker, laughed several times to someone off camera, and talked with someone off camera while speakers were talking.
Stumpf did respond to some speakers but did not address stated concerns. His statements were generic in nature concerning aspects of hog confinements.
When asked why he thought a new hog confinement would work now during a pandemic when packing plants are shut down and hogs have to be euthanized because there’s no way to process them, Stumpf said, “The pandemic has affected everything in agriculture. Things will rebound. If Seaboard (feed company) asks to delay, I’ll work with them.”
At various points over the 90-minute hearing, speakers asked why Stumpf would want to come to an area that was hostile toward him. Stumpf did not address the issue but did say, “I’ll do my best.”
Dean Hoskins told the board, “We expect due diligence on the part of the board. It’s a complete injustice if this (application from Stumpf Finishers, LLC) passes.”
Board chair John Muir closed the public hearing at 10:25 am and members of the board discussed their thoughts about the Stumpf site.
The board seemed in general agreement that they have essentially no power to deny applications since the master matrix score is accepted without question by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Supervisor Tom Contner said, “I don’t like out of county ownership, but Greene County residents are going to benefit.”
Supervisor Mick Burkett asked, “Who scored the matrix the DNR looked at?” Supervisor Pete Bardole said, “This is the matrix we have to deal with.”
Muir said the board’s actions are limited due to “the DNR’s acceptance of questionable points.”
Supervisor Dawn Rudolph said she didn’t like how things were handled and the “poor communication.”
In the end, the board voted to approve the Stumpf Finishers, LLC application. Ayes were Muir, Pete Bardole, Burkett and Contner. Nay vote was cast by Dawn Rudolph.
Written and oral comments will be sent with the board’s recommendation to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.