LACON — The Marshall County Board’s 9-2 vote on Thursday to recommend against state approval of a large proposed hog farm in the northwest corner of the county did not exactly come as a surprise to Dr. Nicolas Rippel, the Toluca native and Iowa veterinarian who is the lead developer of the project.
Rippel, who previously developed the similar Sandy Creek Lane Farm near Wenona in the face of intense county and public opposition, had come prepared with a written statement vowing to move forward with the proposed Buffalo Run Sow Farm and citing the jobs, tax revenues, and other benefits it could bring to the area.
“Despite the steps that we are taking to protect the environment and community, and the positive contributions that the farm will make to the surrounding area, the (board) voted against recommending the construction of Buffalo Run,” Rippel said in the statement anticipating that outcome.
“Regardless,” he added, “we will continue to meet and exceed the requirements of the Livestock Management Facilities Act and renew our commitment to investing in Illinois agriculture and the economic well-being of Marshall County.”
Buffalo Run would house 7,000 farrowing sows and a total of about 22,000 animals in five buildings on farmland in Saratoga Township. It would create 25 jobs averaging $40,000 a year, generate $190,000 in new property tax revenues annually, and buy $1.5 million worth of local crops, according to estimates presented by Rippel.
The board did not adopt the type of scorched earth approach it had taken to oppose the Sandy Creek facility in 2014, when members voted 10-1 to send the Illinois Department of Agriculture a seven-page letter stating they were “adamantly opposed” on multiple grounds. Discussion Thursday focused on potential damage to rural roads by increased truck traffic and the absence of a road use agreement between the developer, the county and Saratoga Township.
“I think our main concern is the roads . . . I don’t think the taxpayers should have to stand all the costs (for repair or improvement). I mean, they’ve already furnished the roads,” said Chairman Gary Kroeschen, adding: “I would hope that Mr. Rippel would make an effort to get this road agreement….”
By the same 9-2 margin, the board rejected a separate motion supported by Jack Johnson and Andy Stash to send the department a letter declaring county support on the condition that road agreements are reached. Those two voted against the motion that got approved.
County engineer Patrick Sloan told the board the Illinois Department of Transportation had recently lowered the weight limit on a small bridge that needs replacement near the site. Stash objected that holding the new project hostage to that amounted to unfairly expecting the developer to pay for conditions that already existed.
“I don’t understand why (Rippel) has to go through all this activity to bring economic development into our county,” Stash said. “People have been using (the bridge) for years with excess weight, and nobody’s done anything about it. Now you’ve got a developer who wants to come in and spend a lot of money in our county, and we’re saying, ‘Well, you’ve got to come up with X number of dollars to fix a problem that we should have fixed a long time ago.’”
Rippel has previously said that VMC Management Corp., the veterinarian-owned company that would manage the facility, would comply with all weight limits. He declined to comment Thursday on the lowered limit on the bridge except to say that it was news to him.
Former board members Sharon DeWeerth and Vicki Waldschmidt, who live in that area and have frequently stated opposition to the project, pointed out Thursday the agriculture department still had not provided the promised transcript of the June 4 public meeting. They sent the department a letter Thursday asking that the public comment period be extended for 30 days after the transcript is made available.
“The board members and their constituents require these transcripts to perform a review and discussion of criteria before a vote is submitted,” they wrote.
Unless the time frame is extended, the department will have to reply to the county’s letter by Aug. 1, according to statements at the public meeting. But the agency could simply request more information from the developer at that time rather than decide for or against the project, according to the department’s website.
“In such cases,” it states, “the decision will be made after the owner of the proposed facility responds to the additional information request.”
Gary L. Smith can be reached at (800) 516-0389 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Glsmithx.