PEORIA, IL -- From a news release:
Community Lawsuit Against Industrial Hog Operator, State Ag Agency Could Have Big Impact on Rural Illinoisans
Iowa ag corporation attempts to void local ‘Save Our Sandy’ community effort to oppose approximately 20,000-head hog farm, protect threatened waterway
Neighbors of a proposed large-scale concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) for Marshall County (IL) have filed a lawsuit in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court against Iowa-based VMC Management Corporation (VMC) and the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) seeking a review of the agency’s controversial decision to allow construction of the industrial hog facility near Wenona.
The IDOA approved the mega hog operation to be located in a rural residential area on the banks of Big Sandy Creek, one of the state’s most valued streams and a major tributary to the Illinois River. The proposed facility would house over 19,500 hogs and produce 10 million gallons of waste annually.
In an attempt to bypass public opinion and public health scrutiny, VMC filed a motion on April 28th to quash and dismiss the lawsuit claiming that the local citizen group Save Our Sandy (SOS) does not have standing to challenge decisions by the IDOA to site new factory farms. The IDOA also moved to dismiss the complaint.
“The position that community members have no standing to ask their state government to review a decision that affects their lives, their health and their lifestyle is ridiculous,” said Leslie Smith, a SOS member and neighboring resident to the hog facility. “If this case is dismissed, it will have a huge impact on local farmers, residents and their communities, and prove that our state government protects out-of-state corporations over its own citizens.”
In a move that has frustrated local efforts to protect public health and Big Sandy Creek, the IDOA ignored a “no” vote by the Marshall County Board to allow construction of the facility at the proposed location.
The agency has a history of allowing CAFOs to be constructed despite opposition from citizens and county boards.
“The IDOA’s refusal to heed the recommendations of local authorities gives the citizens of Illinois every reason to call for a full review of new CAFO plans,” said Karen Hudson, regional associate of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and co-founder of the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water. “Citizens have a legal right to uncover the repeated serious flaws and omissions by the IDOA and demand corrections or a stop to construction of these massive polluting facilities if they don’t meet regulatory standards.”
This is the first lawsuit to be filed against the IDOA for wrongly issuing a CAFO construction permit since the Jo Daviess County community group, HOMES, brought suit against an ill-planned mega-dairy project at the headwaters of the Apple River. While the HOMES group ultimately stopped construction of the CAFO, they were unsuccessful in litigation against the IDOA for approving the facility.
In its complaint, SOS called into question whether the IDOA did a proper analysis of the aquifer under the proposed site prior to issuing the permit, and whether plans for the facility will prevent runoff and groundwater discharges. Questions were also raised about the adequacy of the facility’s odor control plan, traffic safety proposal and road impact plan.
“The entire decision on CAFOs rests with the state, even though the community and local government will be the ones dealing with the daily operation issues and any pollution clean-up,” said SOS’s Smith.
“Local control of these decisions is needed, and needed now.”
Save Our Sandy is represented by the Environmental Law Clinic at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.