Hog farm seeks growth

BY KRISTEN BARON | JUNE 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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A proposed farm expansion may be anything but hog heaven for Johnson County residents.

Ray Slach of West Brach has requested a permit to expand his existing 2,400 head of hog confinement feeding operation. If approved, the new facility would house up to 4,880 hogs.

The existing facility, 4315 Oasis Road S.E., in Scott Township is fewer than 10 miles from downtown Iowa City.

A public hearing will be held at 9 a.m. today at the Johnson County Administration Building, although the Johnson County Board of Supervisors will not make a decision until June 26.

Slach owns six factory farms that house more than 13,000 hogs in Johnson and Cedar Counties.

“We have over 10,000 hog farms in Iowa,” said Paul Petitti, permit engineer for the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s not uncommon for farmers to put up one barn and put up a second barn within a couple years.”

Several Johnson County residents have voiced their concerns about Slach’s expansion, including worries about water pollution. He has two environmental violations on his record.

“If he keeps building more and more there will be a high concentration of factory farms near waterways,” said David Goodner, a farm and environment organizer for the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

In 2001, a manure spill affected waterways and killed a large number of fish, and in January 2013 Slach was found spreading manure in unapproved fields, Goodner said.

“I think his environmental record will certainly play a role in the Johnson County decision,” Goodner said.

The supervisors will score the permit application using a master matrix, composed of 44 different elements that include location, resident and environmental impacts, how the individual will store materials, and past violations.

After the matrix is scored and either approved or denied by the supervisors, it will be sent to Natural Resources, which has the ultimate say in the application decision.

Natural Resources will not score a master matrix unless the county fails it, Petitti said.

“It’s unfortunate that local governments don’t have the final say in clean water, air quality, issues like that,” Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “Counties that choose not to do the master matrix really relinquish all their authority.”

Slach will need a score of 440 in the matrix for the permit to be approved.

Some members of the environmental group are also concerned about Slach’s spreading of manure in floodplains that could lead to water pollution, smell and air pollution, damage to county roads during the expansion, and the proper handling of waste.

Neuzil said an overflow room will be prepared today because of “the potential for an active group.”

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