River Edge Farms was denied by the Cerro Gordo county supervisors on August 16 a request to build a 4,992 head hog confinement and driveway near Ventura. The vote was 3-0, against the plan. For the newest supervisor, Republican Casey Callanan, this was his first test on the matter of the environment, hog confinements – that whole interconnected issue of how “big ag” supposedly pillages our water, soil and air. He sided with turning away this latest “CAFO” (acronym for animal confinement). River Edge Farms can still get the confinement if the state overrides the recommendation from the supervisors.
Callahan’s record is now one-sided. Why he voted as he did is anyone’s guess. Word was, he supported the Prestage Foods slaughterhouse, but that was before the tidal wave of public backlash against big ag (Prestage) was unleashed at the end, in May. Remember, his wife, Hunter, works for the North Iowa Corridor, which was all-in for Prestage. Yet, oddly in contrast to his support of Prestage, public sentiment in Clear Lake (where he lives and represents those county citizens) was vastly in favor of turning the slaughterhouse away. On August 16 when he voted “no”, was Callanan attempting to ride the crest of this anti-confinement public sentiment that seems to have washed over the area, to his political advantage?
At the same time, the word was that his fellow board members Phil Dougherty and Jay Urdahl (Democrats) opposed the Prestage slaughterhouse. Mind you, none of the three made any public statements on where they stood on the development. And they were purposely left out of the equation by Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, the grand puppetmaster in that ugly affair. They didn’t need to say or do anything, except privately huddle with their political cronies, and fall in line with their sentiments.
Now, Jay Urdahl (28 years in office) and Phil Dougherty (16 years in office) have longer track records when it comes to animal confinements than Mr. Callanan. And in fairness, it should be noted that the supervisors really can only slow down or discourage a confinement by recommending denial to the Iowa DNR. But, that can be a powerful deterrent for an ag outfit strapped for time and expense who might more-easily move on to another county for faster results – or give up altogether once it’s known they are not wanted.
That being said, NIT has learned that since 2002, last Tuesday’s CAFO vote was the ninth such time a confinement (under the Master Matrix state rules) has come before the Cerro Gordo board of supervisors. This time period comes after both Mr. Urdahl and Mr. Dougherty took office. Of those nine development opportunities, every one of the CAFOs passed the board except two (including last Tuesday). When pressed for clarity on if any supervisor ever voted against a CAFO in those other eight instances before last week’s meeting, NIT was pointed to just one instance, back in 2008, when the Board held a hearing on a request for a 4,800 head confinement facility in Section 27 of Bath Township. That CAFO development failed the state’s scoring system under the Master Matrix and the board turned it down (it got built anyway… just smaller and further from a prairie area). In other words, hog confinements normally are approved by our supervisors here in Cerro Gordo county… but not on August 16, when a large public hearing was held, complete with extensive county staff presentations, public comment time and full media coverage.
It could be that the board, prior to the August 16 meeting (and the possible anomaly when a CAFO was turned down in 2008) simply didn’t think they could stop confinements from coming to Cerro Gordo county and just rolled over and approved those developments.
Or, it could be that the board thought those confinements were fair use of those areas and made the approvals. This would seem to contradict their actions in voting down the CAFO development on August 16.
Or, and some are whispering about this … Mr. Dougherty and Mr. Urdahl – both up for re-election again this year – seized the moment that day, knowing a large media presence would be on hand (NIT, KIMT and the Globe covered the meeting) and, for political advantage over their opponents, put on a grand show and made a spectacle of handing a defeat to River Edge Farms. We know that both men have voted in favor of CAFOs in the past on numerous occasions. Isn’t it fair to wonder why River Edge Farms was singled out, especially since it satisfied the Master Matrix?
The confinement issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and it’s safe to say that any new CAFO on the county agenda will be scrutinized much more closely than in the past. It will be of interest to the public how the board votes in the future; do they start a new trend of turning away confinements, or go back to their old ways of approving them once the hype wears off?