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Proponents of Hancock County hog confinement facility want 'viable, sustainable, long-term business'

Bill Hollis with Professional Swine Management, the company that will manage a proposed swine operation, leads to the front of the room for a presentation in front of more than 150 Hancock County residents. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jan. 4, 2012 10:09 pm Updated: Jan. 25, 2012 10:15 pm

By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Dr. Bill Hollis says the reasons behind the proposed Junction Acres hog confinement near LaCrosse are simple.

They are people, pigs and neighbors.

Junction Acres "wants to be a viable, sustainable, long-term business with a good relationship to both the community and the livestock industry," said Hollis, who is with Professional Swine Management. "We want to be here. We want to be your neighbor."

If the 5,600-sow Junction Acres plan is approved, Carthage-based PSM would operate the farm.

Neighbors had plenty to say, both pro and con, about the facility at a Wednesday night public informational meeting at the University of Illinois Extension office in Carthage. Twenty-five people testified at the meeting, which lasted five and a half hours.

Junction Acres LLC has proposed the farm at a site 1.3 miles northwest of LaCrosse. The $11 million facility is expected to produce 2,500 pigs a week and provide 18 to 20 full-time jobs.

Plans call for five buildings -- two gestation buildings, one farrowing building, one gilt developer building and one isolation nursery building -- on 20 acres. The owners have agreements with adjoining neighbors for access to about 1,000 acres for manure application.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture held Wednesday night's meeting to provide an opportunity for the public to get accurate information about the proposed project.

Warren Goetsch, the department's bureau chief of environmental programs, reviewed the state's Livestock Management Facilities Act, including the eight siting criteria used to approve or deny proposed projects. PSM's Hollis and Chris West with Frank and West, the facility's engineering firm, then outlined plans for Junction Acres. West said the proposed facility meets the siting standards.

The audience of more than 150 people peppered all three men with 90 minutes of questions on topics that included composting dead animals, managing waste, meeting water requirements and assessing wear-and-tear on township roads.

Neighbors cite health and environmental concerns with the facility, which they say will be the seventh within a four-miles radius.

"Do you want to be the hog capitol of Illinois?" Warsaw resident David Moorehouse said. "When is enough enough? How much is enough?"

Eleven people testified in opposition to the facility. Thirteen, including several PSM employees, spoke in favor of the facility or hog production.

Charlie Bair, who retired last week as executive director of the Carthage Community Development Committee, reminded the crowd that economic development always is a trade-off.

"I would ask the County Board to very carefully consider the objections raised, and if there are no answers, if it's a trade-off -- as it was when we put in the superhighway and we cut people's farms in half and some people's livelihoods were enhanced, some people's pocketbooks were enhanced and others were not -- that question should be balanced against the economic benefits of an $11 million benefit with a $700,000 payroll and 18 to 20 new jobs," Bair said.

Wayne Humphrey and his family enjoy 80 acres of farmland a few hundred feet away from the proposed site. The farm, bought by Humphrey's great-grandfather, has been in the family for 143 years, and he intends to pass it down to the next generation.

"There's no fence I can put up that will prohibit stink from the stink factory from trespassing on my land," he said. "I ask Hancock County and the Department of Ag to protect my right to enjoy my property. I was here first."

Derek Helmers spoke on behalf of a group worried about the facility's impact on their hunting ground.

"We are very concerned the facility is going to destroy enjoyment of the area. Our opportunity to enjoy the fresh air will be gone," Helmers said. "Sitting in woods smelling hog manure ... just isn't appealing to many of us."

Jim King lives just over a half-mile away from the proposed site. He worries about the facility's impact on his wife, who has several health issues, including COPD.

"I've lived there 32 years," King said. "I don't want to have to move."

Gary Donley with PSM stressed the financial boon provided by the proposed facility. He estimates annual property taxes that would be paid on the structure at $112,000, with $66,000 going to the Illini West and LaHarpe Elementary school districts, and $17,000 to Pilot Grove Township.

Lee Ward likes other benefits associated with the proposed facility.

"I like bacon. I like sausage and ham, and I really like a good pork chop cooked on the grill," said Ward, whose daughter and son-in-law own and operate a facility in the county similar to Junction Acres.

Hancock County Farm Bureau President Joe Zumwalt said the organization believes it's vitally important for the county's livestock industry to continue to grow and prosper.

"Our population is just over 19,000. Our total area is 794 square miles, which means only 24 people per square mile. Our unemployment is 9 percent. Perhaps there is no better place in the state for expansion of livestock operations," Zumwalt said. "It seems like Hancock County is an ideal location for animal agriculture as long as expansion takes place in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth in the LMFA."

 -- dhusar@whig.com/221-3379

 

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