The citizen based group, known as Concerned Citizens for Smart Growth (CCSG) held an informational meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24, in regards to the large-scale pork slaughterhouse slated to open in the fall of 2018 at the former Driftless Meats location between the cities of Viroqua and Westby, in the town of Viroqua.
More than 170 people packed into the Westby Elementary School cafeteria to learn more about the business plan of Premium Iowa Pork (PIP), a division of Lynch Livestock Inc., owned by Gary Lynch. The corporation purchased the former Driftless Meats property earlier this year.
Gayle Nielsen, a representative of CCSG steering committee said the organization is working to promote public awareness of what the CCSG organization feels is the wrong place for the development of such a business. Nielsen said according to PIP representatives the company will begin remodeling the former Driftless Meats building in the spring of 2018, with production at the plant to begin in the fall. She said CCSG steering committee members were told the plant will likely process 700 hogs daily, five days a week.
In August, members of CCSG met with representatives of PIP to learn more about the PIP business plan for its Vernon County location, but members of the CCSG steering committee left the meeting with more questions than answers fueling concern about what, if any, adverse effects the new hog slaughterhouse facility could have on the area.
Discussion at the Oct. 24 meeting weighed the pros and cons of the PIP plant in Vernon County and touched on issues from ground water contamination; the development of large hog raising facilities (CAFOs); the decline in land values; employment; housing and more.
One of the main topics was how the new facility will dispose of its wastewater. The Westby wastewater treatment plant does not have the capacity to contract with PIP and the city of Viroqua has entertained the idea, but has not voted either way whether it plans to contract with PIP or forego the idea all together. If PIP cannot find a facility willing to contract with them for regular disposal of the wastewater produced at the plant and are forced to truck the wastewater long distances for disposal, they may need to invest in filtering basin lagoons (in ground storage ponds) to house the wastewater until it is broke down and can be disposed of.
CCSG representatives raised concerns about developing lagoons so near the multi-use path between Westby and Viroqua; the odor created from the lagoons with so much residential housing in the area; and the potential of leakage from the lagoons into the groundwater. Lagoon systems are generally very low-maintenance, but after long periods of use wastewater lagoons must be cleaned and refurbished to continue functioning properly. These wastewater ponds can also legally seep up to 500 gallons of wastewater into the ground daily. Any development of lagoons by PIP would require DNR approval and permits.
Guest speaker Forest Jahnke of the Crawford Stewardship Project discussed the fragile underground karst aquafer system that serves the Driftless Region, including the area where the new business will be located. He raised deep concern about possible ground water contamination if a leak occurred and how quickly it could contaminate numerous private residential wells surrounding the facility and eventually have a negative effect on area trout streams. He said rules and regulations need to be in place to protect rural America, which is quickly being invaded by large industrial operations.
Speaker Alan Berg questioned where all the PIP hogs would be raised for processing, which led to some discussion about the possible development of large hog raising facilities within a 50 mile radius of the PIP plant in Vernon County. Berg said since PIP already owns the land and since zoning is not in place in the town of Viroqua where the building is located that the hands of many local officials are tied in that respect, but that the ink is not dry yet when it comes to preventing expansion or any further permits being approved.
The CCSG steering committee took questions from the audience and encouraged people at the meeting to contact their local government officials, ask questions, and to educate themselves about what is happening. Nielsen said we all need to be good stewards of the land and that PIP wants everyone to believe they are. She said if you research the company yourself you will find violations. She said growing economically is important, but we need to carefully weigh if that growth is a benefit or a detriment to the people living around us.
“We should be using this area’s natural resources to enhance our organic image, promote tourism and strengthening our farm-to-table image. We need to protect what we have,” Nielsen said.
According to the CCSG the organization can’t prevent PIP from opening a business on land they already own, but they believe if enough people sign the petition raising concerns about the negative impact of operating such a business in the Driftless Region, and if the business cannot find an outlet for disposal of it wastewater, it will impact PIP’s bottom line.
“If they (PIP) wants to come, they will come... but we can make it hard for them to be profitable,” CCSG member Emily Rozeske said.
The CCSG encouraged people to learn more about the organization on its website, http://www.citizensforsmartgrowth.com or contact CCSG by email at citizensforsmartgrowth.com. The website provides background information on the group, highlights environmental concerns, provides comments from concerned citizens, and allows website visitors to sign an online petition asking people to refuse PIP’s wastewater locally.
Beginning in December, the CCSG plans to present signed petitions at area town, municipal, city and county board meetings, as well as making contact with local and state legislators over the next several months. More public informational meetings will be held in the future, but no specific locations of dates were set.