Two hearings were held Aug. 4 to discuss two proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Livingston County. Both the Harms-Kevin’s House and the Harms-Stoller’s facility are finishing facilities that would both house 4,500 hogs.
The two back-to-back County Board hearings addressed the eight siting criteria the facilities have to meet before the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) can permit them for construction.
Although most county public hearings are held after normal business hours, these were held in the morning and early afternoon. Had the hearings been held in the evening, more citizens would have been able to attend to voice their concerns.
Despite this, both meetings were well attended by nearby residents. Bob Bradford, the Mayor of Saunemin, presented a petition with 132 signatures and urged the IDOA to take into consideration the investments his nearby town has made in the last eight years to improve the quality of life of the community.
“It was an interesting, yet frustrating, process,” said Bradford. “The consortium of involved organizations, such as the IDOA, the CAFO industry, and state and local government, should be more interested in protecting the environment and our water resources.”
Water usage, water pollution and the lack of transparency of the applicant’s plans for the facilities were reoccurring themes during the hearings. The amount of water they will require on a daily basis could range from 9,000 to 45,000 gallons, depending on the time of year.
Neighboring residents testified that the added stress on the aquifer and the impacts to already low water levels in their wells could be disastrous and irreversible.
The issue of surface water contamination was also raised, particularly because some of the community’s drinking water is drawn from the nearby Vermilion River watershed.
Questions were raised regarding the facilities’ construction and waste management plans, since they were not made available to citizens or the County Board prior to the hearing. (The IDOA recently denied citizen access to them in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.)
Chris West, the engineer who plans to build the facilities, offered to make the plans available. This was a major breakthrough because the IDOA is known for withholding this type of information from the public.
Despite the last-minute offer to view the construction plans, citizens have not seen them, nor were they allowed to have third-party experts evaluate their adequacy prior to the hearing. According to local knowledge and belief, neither was the County Board.
The question remains how the County Board will be able to make an informed decision regarding the proposals prior to issuing their recommendation to the IDOA, which is scheduled for Aug. 11.