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New Linn Hog Confinement Proposal Brings Out Angry Neighbors

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CEDAR RAPIDS One thing hasn't changed about a rural Linn County farmer's plan, now revised, to operate an expanded hog confinement operation east of Center Point.

That is, many of Matt Ditch's neighbors hate the idea, and they made their feelings known to the Linn County Board of Supervisor at a public hearing on Monday.

"I love Matt's wish to get into farming," said neighbor Regina Behmlander. "But factory farming is not the way to do it."

She called his plan to convert his father's operation with 300 pigs into one with 4,160 pigs "another nail in the coffin to family farming."

Last fall, Ditch had floated a proposal for a 5,661-hog operation, then withdrew the plan in the face of neighbors' objections.

His current plan is just small enough that it does not need to pass a "master matrix evaluation" by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to secure a construction permit from the state agency.

As a result, too, the supervisors say their role is limited to passing on the transcript of the public hearing, other public comments and their own thoughts to the DNR.

Ron Gibson, a retired Rockwell Collins electrical engineer who has an 80-acre farm near the Ditch farm, on Monday thanked Ditch for having the courage to come to individual farmer's homes to talk about his hog plans. Gibson, though, said the Ditch project would dirty the air and water and hurt property values. He called on Ditch to put on his "big boy breeches," declare, "I am a moral person," and set aside his hog confinement plans.

Ditch addressed the supervisors and explained that he was working to address neighbor concerns.

Specifically, he said he would install an odor-control system that has been shown to reduce confinement-operation odors by 75 to 90 percent. He said he also will plant trees around the building to help further reduce odor and to hide the building from neighbors. Hog waste will be injected into the nearby farm fields and not simply be dropped on fields with a greater risk of washing off, Ditch added.

Neighbors are upset, too, because they feel that Ditch has sidestepped a state requirement for a more rigorous environmental review by arguing that his is not a new facility requiring such a review, but rather an enlargement of an old, existing one.

Wally Taylor, a Cedar Rapids environmental attorney, told the supervisors that the current hog operation on the Ditch farm keeps its doors open and so is a feedlot and not a confinement building. As a result, Ditch's plan is really a new confinement building, which must follow the more stringent review, Taylor argued.

A second attorney, Walter McNamara, also spoke against the Ditch plans.

Ditch is working with Maschhoff Pork, Carlyle, Ill., and Samantha DeWitt from the firm told the supervisors that the DNR has agreed that Ditch is expanding an existing hog operation and not building a new one.

Today, community members from eight counties, including Linn County, plan to attend the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission meeting to demand that the DNR crack down on "factory farm pollution," Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said in a statement.

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