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Locals not hog-wild about pig farm

WENONA — A crowd of more than 300 people filled the Wenona Fieldcrest School April 17 to express their views on a proposed corporate hog farm planned for Marshall County; many residents from neighboring Putnam and LaSalle counties were in attendance. The Illinois Department of Agriculture hearing — which lasted six hours — drew supporters and opponents of the Sandy Creek Lane farm in an often heated discussion of the merits and flaws of building the farm outside Wenona.

The birth-to-ween farm has been proposed by Veterinary Medical Center Management Corporation from Williamsburg, Iowa. VMC spokesperson Nicolas Rippel is originally from Toluca and explained the animals would be housed in three large buildings that would be constructed to store up to one year’s waste of the estimated 20,000 pigs in the project, approximately 10 million gallons. Waste would then be spread over 1,200 acres of farmland as fertilizer. Rippel said the environmental and odor impact would be minimal.

“The facility will have deep-pitted barns with no open lagoons,” Rippel said. “The birthing barn will be cleaned between each birthing unit. We’ll have tree buffers, and the nutrients we use for feed eliminate a lot of the smell. This is really more about misunderstanding and misinformation, and we’re trying to get the true information out there.”

Lostant resident and geology instructor at Illinois Valley Community College Mike Phillips disputes Rippel’s claim, noting U.S. Department of Agriculture soil maps show the land unsuitable for manure spreading and gravel, and sand formations could be missed by soil borings and deflect manure leakage toward Sandy Creek.

“I used to make my living investigating hazardous waste sites, so when I saw they were going to put in a facility that’s going to have somewhere between 5 and 10 million gallons of hog waste stored in the basement, I became concerned,” Phillips said. “That’s exactly the kind of thing that I used to have to investigate because those things leak. Our concerns are the odors from just normal operation are not going to smell good and they’re noxious chemicals. They don’t just smell bad; they’re bad for your health.

“My biggest concern is installations like this with a small area to hold large amounts of waste have a tendency to fail,” Phillips said. “When it fails, it will endanger Sandy Creek. In addition, they don’t have a good way of detecting a leak. They’re using a pipe around the outside of the basement, but these types of pits usually fail from the bottom.”

While many Marshall County residents and most of the county board members are in favor of the farm, others are not and have threatened to move if the farm is built. Phillips has noticed much of the impact of the confinement facility would be felt downwind of the farm, with prevailing winds in that area carrying the odors across the LaSalle County line into Lostant and its TIF district and possibly limiting the village’s future.

Department of Agriculture Environmental Director Warren Goetsch outlined the eight criteria the facility must meet before receiving the blessing of the department, many of which cover the concerns of opponents of the proposed farm. Goetsch also noted VMC has yet to file its final plans for the facility, although he is expecting them shortly.

Marshall County has less than two months to give its non-binding approval of the facility with the Department of Agriculture’s ruling due within 15 days after that.

VMC Management operates 12 hog farms throughout Iowa.

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