Even though Palo Alto County has had a "Good Neighbor Policy" for the placement of livestock confinement operations for many, many years, there have been very few instances where a confinement did not meet those guidelines. But the times, they are a changin'.
The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors voted to reject two conditional use permits for hog confinement operations during its meeting on Oct. 31, but granted a third permit after that application met the provisions of the Good Neighbor Policy.
Palo Alto County Zoning Administrator Joe Neary presented the three applications to the board, along with several landowners who were opposed to one of the sites. The first application, submitted by Prestige Farms of Ames, was for a confinement site located in Section 31 of Nevada Township, met the Criteria of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, but was less than half-mile from two residences, which goes against the Good Neighbor Policy.
Neary reported that the Planning and Zoning Commission had voted not to recommend the permit for approval.
Board Chair Keith Wirtz asked the members of the public who were present if they had anything they wished to say.
"There's already one confinement in the section," noted Angie Vaughan. "Why do we need another?"
The proposed site would be 2,255 feet from the Vaughan residence, and 1,834 feet from the Donahue residence.
"We spend our tax money for the roads that they drive on," noted Kathy Mortenson. "Where does their tax money go? They don't buy their feed locally."
"That's right," agreed Jim Vaughan. "Where does their money go?"
It was noted that the property for the site was purchased from a landowner in West Bend, who had sold small tracts of land for similar buildings in the past.
"You know, if we could stop them from building this, we would do it," Supervisor Ed Noonan told the group. "But, the DNR has different views."
"We agree with you as a board, but our hands are tied," Wirtz agreed.
"If you get a big enough group of you together and go to the DNR, maybe you could get their attention."
"These people are not our neighbors," Angie Vaughan pointed out. "North Carolina and Ames are not our neighbors. They don't care about us. Local people go by the Good Neighbor Policy, but not these people."
Supervisor Leo Goeders asked Neary if it might be a good idea to have another gathering of confinement operators and developers to re-establish the Good Neighbor Policy, as had been done when the policy was first established back in the 1990's.
The Good Neighbor Policy came about when county officials brought the developers of livestock confinement operations together and through talks and compromise, developed a voluntary policy where a livestock confinement facility would not be built within one-half mile, or 2,640 feet, from any residence, unless a written waiver to the distance separation was granted by the residents in the half-mile distance. Since that time, there were fewer than five instances where confinements were built without meeting the provisions of the policy or obtaining waivers.
While the Good Neighbor Policy had no legal standing or enforceability, it was often copied by other counties in the state and was adhered to.
"There are a lot of new companies out there who may not be familiar with the policy," Dean Gunderson, a member of the county's Planning and Zoning Board said. Maybe it might not hurt if you could get them there and have the discussion."
"I would just encourage anyone in the county who doesn't like these people violating the Good Neighbor Policy to call them and let them know about it," Ed Noonan said.
With that, Supervisor Jerry Hofstad moved to deny the conditional use permit, and after a second by Noonan, the board rejected the permit application on a unanimous vote.
A second permit application from Prestige Farms for a confinement site in Section Seven of Great Oak Township was also in conflict with the Good Neighbor policy with three neighboring residences. Again, Neary reported that the Planning and Zoning Commission had voted not to recommend the permit for approval.
"This is ridiculous," Noonan said in disgust. "This only used to happen once a year, but now"
Once again, Hofstad moved to deny the permit, and with a second from Goeders, the permit was denied unanimously.
A third conditional use permit application, for a site in section 35 of Ellington Township, also submitted by Prestige Farms, did meet the criteria of the Good Neighbor Policy. "Planning and Zoning did vote to recommend this application for approval," Neary reported.
Noonan moved to grant the permit and following a second from Goeders, the permit was approved on a unanimous vote.
" Even though we voted to deny them, they can still build them," Hofstad said. "But it isn't right."
"Our hands are tied," Wirtz repeated. "We don't like this any better than you folks do, but there isn't much we can do here about the DNR's confinement?regulations."