Dubuque County resumes resolution for review of large-scale animal ag operations

After commitments to follow through, the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to require review of hog and cattle confinement operations of more than 3,000 head.

The resolution requires large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations to be reviewed through the state of Iowa’s master matrix before construction can begin. The board has had this resolution in place in the past, which supervisors believe has kept some of these big operations from establishing themselves in the county so far.

“Most of the proposals are strategically under the animal units so that they don’t go into the matrix,” said Supervisor Dave Baker. “Part of that is because we have this resolution.”

The matrix in general allows the state and, with this resolution the county, a small degree of scrutiny of such operations — which supervisors say is desired by smaller farm operations in the county.

“Many of these large CAFOs are not inhabited,” Baker said. “They buy a parcel of land and put an unmanned CAFO on the property, which causes consternation with family farms in the area.”

While supervisors wish the matrix allowed them more control, they saw this resolution as their only defense. The current board listed in their legislative priorities for the 2020 session of the Iowa State Legislature a moratorium on any such large-scale CAFOs until the matrix can be reviewed for efficacy.

Supervisor Ann McDonough expressed some concern over the efficacy of the resolution itself during a recent meeting.

“We don’t actually do what this resolution says,” she said. “It says, ‘The board of supervisors must conduct an evaluation of every construction permit operation.’ I’ve never seen those.”

Supervisor Jay Wickham said that is because operations meeting the threshold required by the matrix are few and far-between in Dubuque County.

“It doesn’t come up very often,” Wickham — the board’s senior member — said. “The construction permit application, when the DNR is involved, is when the confinement of animals is at a certain level. Most of the construction is just under that.”

But, he committed to pursuing the review for any operation of a size that triggers it. That commitment was what McDonough was waiting for.

“This is the first year I’ve ever heard Supervisor Wickham say that he would welcome the opportunity to do this — as would I,” she said. “Should an organization of this size enter Dubuque County, I think we have a board that would take that very seriously.”