After failing in 2012 to secure permission for a 5,000-head hog confinement a few miles south of Woodward in Dallas County, Brelsford Family Farms is now building a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) a few miles north of Woodward in Boone County.
And just like last time, neighbors near the facility and others from farther afield are mobilizing to stop the factory farm.
This time, however, the swine farmers have stolen a march on their neighbors by building for 2,480 hogs, a number just below the 2,500-hog threshold triggering permits from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and public hearings before the county board of supervisors.
"That’s how they sneak them in," said Jan Danilson, who lives on a Century Farm less than one mile east of the Brelsfords’ new CAFO at the northwest corner of 300th Street and M Avenue in Peoples Township.
"This time they worked under the radar," said Jess Mazour, organizer with the Boone County chapter of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. "Since they didn’t need DNR permits, they didn’t have to tell the neighbors around here either. And in two years they’ll come back and expand the CAFO to the 5,000 or 10,000 hogs they wanted all along."
According to a Manure Management Plan Form filed with the DNR, the owner of the hog farm is Six5Pork, LLC, and Brodie Brelsford of rural Perry is the president of Six5Pork. Alden, Iowa-based Quality Ag Builders, Inc. is constructing the confinement structure. Quality Ag is owned by Brent Rastetter of Ames, who also sits on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which oversees the DNR and its regulation of large-scale hog confinements. According to Danilson, Brelsford is building his CAFO on land owned by Sheryl York. York’s step-son, Larry York of Woodward, said Sheryl York is a resident of the Perry Lutheran Home.
Danilson said York’s son, Ron Schappaugh, holds power of attorney for his mother and has signed a 99-year lease with Six5Pork.
Danilson and Mazour were among the 50 people filling the Cass Township Community Building Monday night to express their outrage and plan their opposition strategy. They invited Brelsford to the meeting in order to tell him about the health risks and environmental harm the facility would bring to the area.
When he failed to show up, the group took their concerns to Brelsford’s rural Perry home and also to the home of his parents, Mike and Susan Brelsford.
Prior to departing for the Brelsford homes, opponents listened to environmental experts, activists who led the 2012 campaign in Dallas County and neighbors to other central Iowa CAFOs, who described how the high-density hog lots have lowered their property values and hurt the quality of their lives.
Ken Danilson, Jan’s husband, said their home is already a half-mile from a hog facility built by Rod and Missy Bice in 1996. The Danilsons are concerned about the air and water pollution caused by hog facilities. They have also noticed a lot more flies in the area since the Bices built their hog lot.
"We’ve already got one and we don’t want more," Ken said of the new hog facility. He said when the Bice plant opened, every farm within a two-mile radius dropped in value.
Danielle Wirth, professor of agriculture ethics and ecology restoration at Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College, said the Breslford confinement lies within one-half mile of both the Eversoll Creek and the Caton Branch Creek, which each feed the Des Moines River.
"Runoff from this project will pollute Saylorville," Wirth said. "The first acre-foot of the Saylorville Reservoir is owned by the city of Des Moines, so if you live in Des Moines, you’re drinking it."
She also said the wells and ponds at Camp Mitigwa, a Boy Scout Camp within two miles of the hog farm, are also "threatened" with waste contaminants from the facility, which will produce about 633,000 gallons of liquid manure yearly.
Mark Edwards echoed Wirth’s concerns. Edwards retired after 30 years as the DNR’s trails coordinator. He had a hand in setting up Boone County’s Des Moines River Paddlers Program and helped write grants for the High Trestle Trail, which also lies within two miles of the site.
Edwards said the economic potential of these recreational attractions, which small rural communities are struggling to promote, are hurt by factory farms like Brelsford’s.
"We have 8,000 factory farms statewide and already have the worst quality of surface water in the nation," he said. "We’re also the most biologically altered state in North America. We have profoundly changed the natural environment in Iowa and species are leaving like crazy."
Shelly Morlan of Woodward said she is not only concerned about the impact the facility will have on the environment, but also about the impact it will have on her husband, Dave.
"The first thing that came to my mind was how is Dave going to deal with this," Morlan said.
Dave Morlan serves as Boone County’s Emergency Management Coordinator, and he was heavily involved in the search for Kathlynn Shepard, who was kidnapped and murdered in a hog confinement in northern Boone County last year. After Shepard’s body was found and the investigation concluded, the Morlans were driving by a different hog confinement when Dave Morlan "lost it," Shelly Morlan said. He has yet to return to work due to the post-traumatic stress he is working to overcome, she said.
With the Brelsford facility lying just west of the Morlans’ home, the couple cannot drive to Boone or Woodward without having to go out of their way, she said, because she does not know when Dave Morlan will have a negative reaction to seeing a hog confinement.
"Some days he will be fine, but others he won’t," she said. "I ask myself, ‘How is he going to get through this?’"
Stacy Hartmann, owner of Small Potatoes Farm near Minburn and an activist who helped fight the Brelsford’s 2012 application in Dallas County, criticized the secretiveness of the current effort.
"They’ve been talking to their friend, Robert Manning," Hartmann said, referring to a Dallas County hog farmer who similarly surprised his neighbors recently with a hog lot just under the size requiring DNR permission.
"They’ve planned it out and snuck around for a year," Hartmann said. "What will we do if we lose this round?" she asked her fellow attendees.
"We’ll call our legislators and demand they change the laws," a man in the group shouted in reply.
"But that hasn’t worked for 20 years," Hartmann said. "We need to tell the Brelsfords ourselves, ‘Look, you’re making a decision to change the quality of my life just so you can make money.’ It’s all about greed."
Julie Burkhart of Woodward, a local landowner and early childhood teacher, also raised the issue of ethics. "If this were the right thing to do," she said, "he would have called his neighbors and told us about it and asked about our concerns instead of sneaking around."
When the caravan of protesters arrived at Brodie Brelsford’s home, they were met by a "Private Property No Trespassing" sign posted outside the front door. After Danilson knocked and rang the doorbell several times to no answer, she read a letter addressed to Brodie that would be hung on his door. Along with the letter, signs reading, "Family Farms, ‘Yes!’ Factory Farms, ‘No!’" and "Brodie, we don’t want your factory farm!" were taped to the door before the group moved on to Mike and Susan Brelsford’s home.
Once again, no one answered the door, although someone could be seen in the doorway as the group walked up the driveway and past the "No Trespassing" sign posted on a pole. This time, several individuals took turns speaking outside the door, voicing their concerns over the Brelsford’s future facility in the hope that someone inside would listen.
Since none of the Brelsfords answered, the next step for the group of concerned neighbors and community members is to meet with the DNR and Boone County Board of Supervisors to voice their opinions about the facility.
Mazour said they want the supervisors to enact a neighbor-notice resolution, which would require all neighbors living within a two-mile radius of any proposed CAFO be informed in advance. Mazour said Story and Poweshiek counties already notify neighbors this way.
Reached by telephone Tuesday by the Boone News-Republican, Brodie Brelsford said he had no comment about the hog confinement he is building.