by Diane Rosenberg | Executive Director
In May, Ryan Robertson and Deutschland USA-1 each placed legal notices in the Southeast Iowa Union stating they would be submitting individual NPDES Storm Water Permits #2 for the same location on 110th Street east of Pleasant Plain in Penn Township. We assumed they were for CAFOs since both Robertson and Justin Deutsch, owner of Deutschland USA-1, own several hog confinements in Jefferson County. Penn Township is the most CAFO congested area of Jefferson County.
EPA storm water permits are required for any planned construction that results in disturbing an acre or more of land. This is to protect sediment from dirt being moved during construction from reaching waterways.
But until the DNR actually received the permit applications, we were unable to officially confirm they were for factory farms and alert neighbors. We did contact the DNR field office to learn if Robertson and Deutsch submitted construction design statements (CDC) and manure management plans (MMP), but nothing had as yet been filed. We contacted the DNR several times to stay on top of the situation so we could alert neighbors as soon as possible.
A month later the permits were listed on the DNR’s Storm Water Permit database confirming they were for factory farms. Since the DNR never received CDCs or MMPs, we understood they were to be two CAFOs under 1250 hogs. CDCs and MMPs are not required for smaller confinements, and there are no minimum separation distances from neighbors.
Guy Farm, Robertson’s CAFO, and Pleasant Plain 12, Deutsch’s confinement, are adjacent to each other. Justin Deutsch is the son of CAFO owner Bob Deutsch, a known business partner of Ryan Robertson. Therefore, we questioned if common ownership was involved and if the LLC loophole was at play. (Learn more about the LLC loophole here.)
We asked the DNR field office to investigate whether either individual had a 10% or more interest in the other CAFO. If there was common ownership, the CAFOs would be treated as one larger factory farm with more stringent regulations. We asked the field officer to request an affidavit confirming there was no common ownership, and he said he would check with the DNR’s legal counsel to see if it could be required.
We recommended this approach to the DNR’s attorney several times and made that a large part of our recent recommendations to Chapter 65’s rules review. As expected, the DNR only required a letter. Robertson and Deutsch submitted brief statements that there was no common ownership involved.
It’s frustrating that the only document required to determine common ownership has no legal teeth and proves nothing. This is why JFAN continues to advocate that the DNR use an affidavit signed under oath to state the percentage of LLC ownership. We made a strong argument for this in our Chapter 65 rules recommendations citing known or suspected common ownership in about 25% of Jefferson County CAFOs.
As it now stands, Iowa is allowing two buildings just under 2500 hogs to be built east of Pleasant Plain without a manure management plan to document where the manure will be applied and with no minimum separation distance from any neighbor – all without adequate legal documentation of LLC ownership.
The Iowa State Legislature has to find a way to remedy this situation. Years ago, common ownership included integrators - the corporations that owned the livestock. But when Northwest Iowa got too saturated with confinements, the state legislature changed the law to remove integrators from the definition of common ownership so more CAFOs could be built more closely together. This is not the way to protect Iowans or waterways.
The DNR and Iowa State Legislature need to fix a problem that is deeply unfair to neighbors and threatens water quality, especially since no manure management plans are involved. Common ownership should once again extend to integrators, and legal documentation should be required to confirm LLC ownership. Talk to your legislators and tell them this is a problem that must be fixed.