← Back to portfolio
Published on

The cows that cleaved Warren

The town emits a vibe similar to that of many small communities.
People greet passersby. Business owners know customers by name, and restaurants serve coffee alongside the conversation that doubles as news. When neighbors chat, the conversation stretches beyond the standard "How are you?" to a play-by-play report of the grandkid's basketball game.
 Sound idyllic? Well, that's Warren, Ill., said local hardware store owner Jerry Hatfield.
"A lot of people just love to live here," he said.
Yet people don't wave as often these days in the community of 1,500. Greetings are curt between some neighbors, and banter that once thrived on family events and community happenings now centers on one issue - the large-scale confinement operation locals call the "megadairy."
 The proposed dairy in Jo Daviess County has escalated to being more controversial than abortion, according to one local lawmaker, and advocates on each side of the matter say it is ripping apart relationships in the once tight-knit community.

'As a courtesy to you ...'
On Nov. 14, 2007, residents in the Warren and Nora area received a letter that read, "Dear Neighboring Property Owners, As a courtesy to you ..." It went on to speak of a proposed project that included two dairies that would house about 10,000 cows.
 "Well, it caught us off-guard, that's for sure," said Jim Francis, a beef and grain farmer who lives a mile north of the project site.
 Francis joined about 60 other neighbors at an informational meeting days later. Then, on Jan.
10, he was among the more than 500 community members packing the Warren High School gym for a public meeting hosted by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
 "I think we just left with more questions than what we came with by a long ways," he said. "We very much support animal agriculture in Jo Daviess County, but this isn't responsible agriculture."

'Not the milk mafia'
Although he looked like an average farmer, A.J. Bos attracted extra attention at the informational meeting in January. The Bakersfield , Calif. , businessman served as the proposed facility's brainchild and banker. His family owns two dairies in California.
 "I am not the milk mafia," he said. "People think I'm a corporation, and I'm not. If I'm not a family farmer, then there isn't a family farmer in the country."
 As he conveyed his vision to the audience, he shared the estimated statistics - two dairies, about
10,000 cows, a $70 million investment and tax generations topping $170,000.
Since then, Bos has stared at another set of numbers - more than a dozen days in court, three judicial hearings, opposition in the hundreds and daily profit losses of more than $15,000.
"I was expecting opposition, but I wasn't expecting this," he said.

'Wrong place' 
Francis remembers having questions. And he recalls his neighbors asking the same things he was. And somewhere along the way, they created an organization called Helping Others Maintain
Environmental Standards (HOMES), won a preliminary injunction that eventually led to Bos' decision to stop construction, raised about $80,000 for legal fees and won an environmental award from the lieutenant governor's office, which called the dairy operation a "sloppy job."
It's not the "not-in-our-backyard" mentality driving the actions, HOMES members say.
"This is just the wrong facility in the wrong place," said HOMES board member Ken
Turner. "We're not against agriculture. You can't be in Jo Daviess County. That's what we do here. But this is a factory."
The group says the dairy has too many cows to be so close to town, that it will have a leaky manure storage system and that it rests atop an area prone to pollution if a waste spill should occur.
Experts at the Illinois Department of Agriculture disagree, as does Bos.
"Where do people want a dairy? Where do people want us to make food that is the cheapest and best in the world?" he said. "Do they want us to go to Argentina and send the food over here? Where do you want me?"

'The statute says'
Legislators wrote the Livestock Management Facilities Act in 1996 to provide environmental protection while aiding the livestock industry, according to Warren Goetsch, division manager of natural resources with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Proposed confinement facilities owners must submit an application to the IDOA. The department then determines whether the operation complies with the act. More than 1,200 applicants have filed since the law's installment, with 25 percent denied, Goetsch said.
Yet Bos' facility near Warren received the go-ahead. But permission came with controversy, including:
• HOMES members discovered an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency law saying no new livestock facility could operate with a stream on its premises. This dairy site contains a stream. 
While HOMES says the facility should not be built, Goetsch said the IDOA can only enforce its regulations and has no authority to enforce another organization's rules. He also said the site's engineer would be petitioning the Army Corps of Engineers to "discontinue that portion of the stream" so that "it would not exist."
• Another point of contention is setbacks. The statute says facilities with 1,000 to 6,999 animal units must be 1/4 mile from any residence. They also must set back 1/2 mile from populated areas. These setback increases start after the first 1,000 animal units. For each additional 1,000 animal units above that, the facility must be another 220 feet away for residences and 440 feet for populated areas.
A facility can literally run out of room and not be allowed to be in an area if setbacks are too many. This is what would have happened, HOMES said, if the IDOA had accurately rounded the animal units numbers. The facility originally would have housed 6,850 animal units. HOMES representatives said the department should have multiplied 5.85 times the 220 feet or the 440 feet. Instead, the department only multiplied those numbers by 5, rounding down.
But that number determination proves the same in every other case, Goetsch said.
"It's the way we've done it every time, and it's what the statute says to do," he said. "If it said something different, we'd be doing it different."
• According to the Illinois Administrative Code, "owners or operators of proposed facilities should consult with the local soil and water conservation district."
That never happened, HOMES said.
Goetsch said a consultant might have been brought on in the early stages. But either way, Goetsch said Bos did one better - he hired somebody to do an exploration of the site rather than just rely on a consultation. And with that one action, the controversy comes to its peak.
Throughout dozens of hours of testimony, one five-letter word keeps appearing - karst.

'At the site'
Samuel Panno is writing a chapter on karst for a book to be published by the Illinois State
Geological Survey.
In this chapter, he defines karst as a geographic area that has cracks and crevices leading to an underlying aquifer. He delivered this message at the same court hearing where another witness testified that the clay-lined manure ponds at Bos' facility would leak about 875 gallons of manure per acre per day.
Leakage would seep into the water supply serving area residents and prove a contamination, Panno said.
The department of agriculture disagrees.
Bos hired a firm to take soil borings and rock corings at the site, and he provided at least 10 more samples than the law required. The determination was no karst.
Panno said the system is unreliable and said his investigation in the surrounding areas shows otherwise, and that off-site examination is just as reliable as being on site. Goetsch disagrees.
"Other experts are certainly entitled to their determinations, but our point is that we have had access to the information at the site, which makes our information accurate," he said.

Decreased economy
Local business owners have noticed a decrease in patronage since construction halted at the dairy.
Jerry Hatfield, owner of Hatfield's Hardware and Trophies in Warren, said he sold $4,000 worth of products because of the construction, and he said he expected more business to follow.
"There are no guarantees in life, but I cannot fathom that Bos' employees would not have had broken pipes or needed paint for their homes," he said.
Bos said he would create 40 jobs with a starting wage of $10 per hour, although opponents say the economic impact will be much smaller since Bos will not buy locally - a statement Bos disputes.
A negative impact has already hit the area economically, according to Stockton real estate agent
Skip Schwerdtfeger.
"Anything in the area of the megadairy is not saleable," he said. "It's really killing the market around here."
Real estate agent Jim Sullivan argues the opposite, saying "there is still a group of people who would like to live there and are attracted by the economics of the dairy."
And the argument continues.
Neighboring farmers like Bill Harbach said he stands to profit from the dairy. Bos will apply fertilizer on Harbach's fields for a reduced cost, and Harbach plans to sell silage to Bos for feed.
"Bos seemed like a straight shooter, and we really just believe in him," he said.

'It is not all right'
The town is divided, said Tom Bergstrom, of Warren. The HOMES vice president admits he has lost friends over the issue.
"You have no idea what this has done to the community," he said.
At least one man says he does. John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia, traveled to 16 states investigating the effect of large facilities on communities.
"In every town, it is the same. It is divisive," he said. "And what it comes down to, I believe, is that it violates a basic rural ethical concept that there is nothing wrong with people making more money than other people, but it is not all right when people profit at the expense of their neighbors and the community as a whole."
Illinois state Rep. Jim Sacia did some investigating of his own when he learned of the proposed facility. He visited nine communities with operations less than 10 years old and containing at least 3,500 cows. And were the towns divided?
"No, no, no, no, no," he said. "Did I find some people who didn't like the dairy? Of course, but in general, there was a strong acceptance. I think the opposition here is going to throw a red herring no matter what Bos does. He's in a lose-lose situation with these folks."

Who wins?
Court continues in March with a permanent injunction hearing. Until then, both sides remain resolute.
Dairy supporters recently grew in numbers with the forming of Farms For Our Future, a group dedicated to supporting Bos' efforts.
And HOMES is vamping up its work, trying to gain more support heading into the final round of hearings.
Both groups expect to win. But neither side expects both will emerge content.
"I don't think there's any outcome here that would make everybody happy," Francis said.
"And I agree with that," Bos said. "I don't think the HOMES group is going to be happy no matter what I do."