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Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 12:01 am

Proposed hog farm near Petersburg making enemies

Opponents cite possible harm to tourism at Lincoln’s New Salem


A proposed hog farm near Petersburg is drawing criticism from landowners and public officials who claim the facility would harm property values and tourism. Opponents say the project is being rushed through without adequate public input.

Grigsby Family Farms, based in Tallula, Illinois, wants to build a 9,300-hog facility about six miles from Petersburg. Opponents claim the potential smell and the water requirements of the facility will adversely affect the nearby landowners, along with Lincoln’s New Salem State Park, the City of Petersburg and Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area.

Documents submitted to the Illinois Department of Agriculture show the project would consist of two newly constructed finishing barns, each 102 feet wide and 304 feet long. Manure from the hogs would go into pits beneath the buildings.

On Dec. 16 the Department of Ag held a public meeting to explain the project, how the site was selected, and possible effects on roads and other infrastructure. Among other aspects of the project, the presentation touted potential economic benefits for the area, construction techniques meant to prevent leaching of manure into the soil and an insignificant increase in truck traffic.

Randall Leka, a partner with Worrel-Leka Land Services in Jacksonville, would manage the facilities, while Carlyle-based farm company The Maschhoffs would handle operations. Leka could not be reached for comment because he was on a business trip.

Grigsby is planning a separate but similar facility in Cass County. 

Petersburg mayor John Stiltz says he and other opponents didn’t attend the Dec. 16 public meeting on the Menard County project because they didn’t know about it. Although the Petersburg Observer newspaper ran a notice about the meeting on Dec. 11, according to editor Jane Shaw Cutright, Stiltz and others said they didn’t see the notice and were not asked for their input.

Stiltz says he’s opposed to the project because the prevailing winds usually come from the west and northwest, potentially carrying the smell of the farm to Petersburg and nearby attractions. Stiltz says he often visits his son who lives in Iowa – a state with numerous hog farms – and the smell can travel 10 to 20 miles.

“You can’t see the buildings, but boy, the smell is just something else,” Stiltz said.

That leads him to believe the farm near Petersburg would have the same effect.

“It would be pretty detrimental, I think, to the community,” he said.

Stiltz also worries that the facility may require so much water to operate that nearby residents – some of whom already truck in water during dry summer months – would be left with dry wells.

Stiltz sent a letter of opposition to the Menard County Board on Dec. 30, urging the board not to recommend the facility’s approval.

“I have no problem with a business that will add a tax base and add jobs, but at what cost to others?” Stiltz wrote in his letter. “I hope the commission weighs all sides of this issue before making a decision that could hinder more than help the small County of Menard.”

Although state regulations require such proposals to be presented to the county board in which the facility will be located, the board has little actual authority on the matter and merely makes a recommendation to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Allen Grosboll, president of the New Salem Lincoln League preservation group, says the state’s process for approving projects like the hog farm is flawed because city and county governments have no authority to halt such projects.

“The burden is on everyone other than the hog farm developer to prove that it is harmful to a community, its water resources or its air quality,” Grosboll wrote in a letter of opposition to the Menard County Board. “Everything a community puts forward is rebuttable, and this puts the Department (of Agriculture) in a position to simply approve every permit by saying the developers have addressed the concerns. In reading the law and reviewing the department’s past actions, I don’t know that anyone in the department can tell you how a hog farm can be stopped.”

Grosboll says he’d like to see the Illinois General Assembly change the permitting process to allow more public input.

“The siting process needs to be more open and allow for far greater examination of legitimate concerns raised by citizens,” he said.

Opponents of the proposed hog farm recently formed a coalition to explore options for stalling the project. A similar effort began in 2007 by a group of landowners known as the Rochester Buckhart Action Group. They sued to stop a hog farm in Buckhart, southeast of Springfield, but they ultimately lost their court battle in 2009 and eventually had to pay the farm owner $24,000 for damages incurred by a temporary injunction that stopped construction of his facility. Hearings in that case focused mainly on deciding damages and never addressed the issues raised by the group.

Documents submitted to the Illinois Department of Agriculture are available in PDF form here: http://illinoistimes.com/file-246-.pdf

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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