No recommendation yet on Liberty-area confinement proposal, following lengthy public hearing
BEATRICE – The Gage County Planning Commission has tabled a recommendation on a special use permit application submitted by Otto Farms and Summit Pork LLP, for a 6,250 head swine confinement near Liberty.
The action followed a two-hour, 20-minute public hearing in a room packed with opponents of the project…which is similar to a Summit plan recently approved by the Gage County board, located between Pickrell and Adams. Carl Jacobsen is a manager for Summit. "This is one of the most localized projects I've ever been a part of. Local pig company, local contractor, local well driller, local septic, local rock. Everything's been done here that has had impact to Gage County in a positive manner."
The project has received a state construction and operating permit….scoring a 104 on a scale where a project 75 or above, receives the go-ahead.
The commission will seek more information about the impact on roads and bridges from the project, possible impact on water, and whether a decommissioning plan exists.
The commission received resolutions from the Island Grove Township Board and the Village Board of Liberty, both opposing the project. Mark Wieden is Clerk of the Island Grove Township Board. The board’s resolution says South 176th Road by the proposed site is not designed for the increased truck traffic that will occur.
"Due to the topography of the adjacent property and the hilly nature of South 176th Road...that amount of of semi tractor trailer traffic also presents safety concerns for all vehicular traffic, on South 176th Road." Wieden said the township doesn’t have adequate resources to upgrade the road.
Landowners opposed to large concentrated animal feeding operations…or CAFOs… say it will negatively impact the area. Greg Thomas and his family live near the proposed site….part of a multi-generational farm. He also operates a hunting business in that area….which he says draws a lot of business for the Beatrice area…including out-of-state visitors.
"It's going to be taking right at 650 acres out of my operations. I can't have guys with expensive dogs, getting close to the roads. Deer hunters do not want to listen to pens banging, or exhaust fans rolling or hogs squealing, when they are out there deer hunting. I'm going to lose business, there's just no doubt about it. It's a shame that someone from out of state can come in and basically displace a business that's been here for 28 years...and also for people who have lived here, all of their lives."
Janet Rule has property in rural Liberty near the project and says the county should be protecting those who were in the area first. "They have no legal way to get to this property with the weight restrictions on the roads and bridges. They can't even bring in heavy equipment to build it. They are landlocked. They should use their time and money in updating the hundreds of facilities they already have, with this new technology. So, thousands of people have a better quality of life."
Commission member Terry Acton had to recuse himself from participation as a commission member over a conflict of interest, because he earlier signed a petition opposing the project. Testifying as an individual, he spoke in opposition to the plan.
"This isn't hat-in-hand, looking down at your muddy boots family farming, wanting to bring a son or daughter into the legacy. This is full-blown corporate farming that had been shut out by Initiative 300 for years, before it, itself...was dismantled. Southeast Nebraska must be the new frontier of corporates. The corporate cry must be go west, young man, there's money to be made in those southeast Nebraska hills."
Recently, the Gage County Board requested the planning and zoning commission examine regulations as they pertain to concentrated animal feeding operations. The next meeting of the commission is planned for September 26th.