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Livingston County residents fear 10K hog farm will have 'devastating effects'

MDNR reaches Dec. 23 deadline for permit application
Livingston Co. farm
Posted at 7:48 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 23:20:44-05

LIVINGSTON COUNTY, Mo. — News of a potential hog farm coming to Livingston County has ignited a year of contention.

"When you're talking 10,000 [pigs], you're talking a daily odor that you're going to smell,” said farmer Bert Wire, who’s referring to the number of pigs that could be housed under one roof at a planned hog farm in Livingston County.

Neighbors were notified by letter in January of the planned project that grew even larger in September.

Wire lives about 2,500 feet from the proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).

"Health concerns is our biggest thing,” Wire said. "One-hundred fifty-eight gases are emitted by the CAFO on a daily basis, and the amount of manure that's going to be stored there just the – the odor."

41 Action News obtained an application for a permit that United Hog Systems, based out of Marshall, filed in September with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Water Protection Program.

The company wants to construct three buildings to house more than 10,000 hogs, which would generate around 22,000 gallons of waste per day.

That manure would drop into a pit and then be spread on nearby fields as fertilizer, according to the plans.

"One building is nearly the size of three football fields length and width,” said Doug Doughty, who also lives near the proposed CAFO in Livingston County.

Other nearby property owners have also voiced their concerns. And while Wire said smelling manure is a way of life when you’re a farmer, he’s worried about the number of pigs at the CAFO and the manure they’ll produce.

"It will bother people," Wire said. "I mean, anybody within a mile of this is going to smell it. Their way of life is going to be ruined. Their property values are going to decrease."

41 Action News reached out to United Hog Systems, who initially said they would speak with us, but then stopped communicating via phone or text.

An attorney representing the company’s interests has not returned emails and calls. The application filed, however, states "the proposed farm will be designed and constructed to meet the current standards of the MDNR."

Heather Peters, with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said several requirements need to be met before a permit can be issued.

“We look and make sure that the amount of manure they say they are going to generate is reasonable,” Peters said. “Then we make sure they have enough capacity to store that manure and that they have a plan for how they're going to handle that manure."

But Peters said Missouri’s DNR only has the authority to regulate odor at Class 1A facilities, which are between 17,500 and 70,000 hogs – much larger than the one proposed for Livingston County.

The MDNR is responsible for protecting water quality and ensuring all state and federal laws will be followed before a permit is issued.

United Hogs’ permit application states the hogs will be confined under one roof and not have access to outside water sources. The manure pits also will be designed to be watertight.

“It’s probably the single-most common question we get about concentrated animal feeding operations," Peter said. "Unfortunately, the legislature has established a statute that there's only a finite, very limited, number of facilities where we can regulate odor. So while we understand that concern, we don't have regulatory authority to address that concern on the smaller facilities."

Despite residents' concerns, they might have an uphill battle after Governor Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 391. The bill went into effect in August 2019 and nullifies county health ordinances that would have kept out large CAFOs.

Parson said in a news release sent out the day of the signing that the legislation was a “big win for Missouri Farmers.”

“We’ve now opened the doors that will allow Missouri to lead the way in meeting a growing food demand and ensure we keep more agriculture production in our state," Parson said.

Brian Smith, an organizer with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), said the trend is disturbing. Over the years, MRCC has worked to preserve family farms.

“When you look at Iowa that has over 10,000 CFOs, Missouri has a little under 600 right now," Smith said, "and so they look at Missouri as prime territory."

Residents are concerned about the 6,000 acre Poosey Conservation Area, which sits just a few miles from the site of the proposed CAFO, and any potential impact on the county’s shallow or “perched” groundwater.

"Livingston County is known and has a history of their shallow freshwater springs," Doughy said, "and they are all over this country and some of us don't have rural water."

Wire said putting a large facility in an area where there's a lot of water – and 2,600 feet away from a river prone to flooding – is a "large concern."

"[That river] flooded three times in 10-months last year,” Wire said.

CAFOs must be at least two-feet above a site’s groundwater table – acknowledged in the company’s permit application and something the DNR said it will look at closely.

“These facilities are required to be no-discharge; which means they are not allowed to discharge waste water or manure to surface waters or to ground water," Peters said, "and so they have to certify that that's going to be their design and operation."

Wednesday is the deadline for the MDNR to approve or deny the permit. However, if additional documentation is needed the decision could stretch into January.