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Shifting Gears South: New CAFO in Polk Township

by Diane Rosenberg | Executive Director

JFAN just learned of a new small factory farm with fewer than 1250 hogs to be built approximately three miles southwest of Packwood. CAFO owner Doug Adam will be building the confinement, Shifting Gears South, at the intersection of Butternut Avenue and 140th Street on the southeast side in Section 29 of Polk Township. JFAN is mailing a warning letter to neighbors within two miles. No construction has yet begun.

Adam already owns Shifting Gears, Inc. another small confinement on the north side of 140th street, directly across from where the new CAFO will be built. It is also less than 1250 hogs and sits just a few feet away from another confinement, Grinding Gears, owned by Spencer Adam who appears to be a relative. Grinding Gears is also fewer than 1250 hogs.

Those two CAFOs were built in 2015 before the DNR attempted to close the LLC loophole in 2019. They went in as two small separately owned CAFOs that didn’t require a construction design statement (CDS), which designates how the building will be constructed, or a manure management plan (MMP) to show where the untreated hog sewage will be applied, both of which are filed with the DNR and county. JFAN found out about these CAFOs from an anonymous neighbor.

Given the close proximity of Grinding Gears South to Adam’s existing building, JFAN contacted the DNR and reported that Doug Adam was building right next to his current facility, and it appeared to be an expansion, not a separate CAFO, thereby requiring a CDS and MMP. The DNR does not track small CAFOs and was not aware of Adam’s plan.

Further, we asked the DNR to investigate if there was common ownership between Shifting Gears, Inc. and Grinding Gears given the close proximity of the buildings. If that were the case, then the three CAFOs would be considered one large factory farm, also requiring a permit, Master Matrix, and greater separation distances for the new building. We also alerted the DNR about the site of a possible well head close to where we believed the new building would be located.

Jeff Prier, AFO field officer at the Washington DNR office contacted Adam’s contractor, Knee Deep Solutions. He reported that Grinding Gears South will be located 1250 feet away from Grinding Gears, Inc., the minimum separation distance to not be considered an expansion. The DNR doesn’t inspect a site once construction begins to determine if a required separation distance is met, but will do so if neighbors suspect the distance is not in compliance and call in a complaint.

This is a prime example of how our weak regulations now allow at least 3600 hogs to be built a meager quarter of a mile from each other with barely any regulations to follow. The CAFOs do have to follow certain separation distances from waterways and do have to apply for a storm water permit if they disturb more than an acre of land, which is how we learned about the confinement.

But the owners of individual small CAFOs don’t have to indicate where the manure is to be applied, follow regulations that limit manure application on snow covered or frozen ground during winter months, or build further away from neighbors, among other regulations. There is no application for the DNR to approve. JFAN has identified a number of small confinements in Jefferson County for which the DNR doesn’t have records.

Further, Executive Order Number Ten would prohibit any possible way to tighten CAFO regulations to better protect the community here and elsewhere in the state. During the DNR’s Five-Year Rules Review begun last summer, for which JFAN submitted 29 pages of comments to tighten language to better protect communities and the environment, several common-sense recommendations could have an impact on how this CAFO would be treated and regulated if implemented.

They include requiring actual counts of the number of hogs in each building to verify there aren’t more than reported, and clarifying the definition of common management to include integrators – the company that owns the hogs and with whom the CAFO owner contracts to raise them. Since these CAFOs are likely affiliated with the same integrator, the expansion could be considered one large permitted site if that recommendation was in force.

But the Executive Order prohibits strengthening any current rules and regulations, only weakening them, in order to promote private business development – such as CAFOs.

CAFO owners will continue to get away with building their confinements in situations like this until the state legislature passes laws that takes the health and well-being of Iowans and the environment more seriously. In the meantime, we must continue to advocate for a factory farm moratorium that would provide an opportunity to make necessary changes that truly protect Iowans and the environment.


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