The Kansas Department of Health and Environment approved a large expansion of Seaboard Foods' hog operation in Greeley County.
The state is permitting up to 396,000 animals at the site. According to KDHE spokeswoman Miranda Steele, the permit was issued for the expansion of the Ladder Creek facility in accordance with federal and state regulations two weeks ago.
The permit was brought to attention when the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club issued a press release raising issues with KDHE's approval for what they called 50 percent expansion of Seaboard's Ladder Creek operation.
The environmental group had first expressed concerns last fall that there was not enough water to adequately treat the waste from Seaboard's facilities. The group also noted it was concerned about odor issues.
Steele said Tuesday afternoon that the agency did have a public comment period. Changes to the recently issued permit were made based on those comments.
For instance, she said, the "final permit was modified to provide a timeframe wherein the biological volume requirement should be met with requirements for routine sludge accumulation monitoring."
KDHE also expanded on odor issues in its response, which was posted on the Sierra Club's website.
According to the release, when the Sierra Club commented that KDHE should require Seaboard to show there is sufficient water to ensure proper operation of the waste treatment system, KDHE responded saying that the "department is not required to verify that sufficient water is available at the subject site."
Steele also responded by saying that the permit issued by KDHE is for the purpose of protecting the state's water quality, while the Kansas Department of Agriculture's Division of Water Resources is responsible for water appropriations.
In the letter from KDHE posted on the Sierra Club's website, the state agency said: "Nothing in the statutes or regulations makes it incumbent upon the department to ensure the permittee has access to enough water to properly operate the waste management system."
KDHE also said while water is scarce in the area, that does not mean there isn't insufficient fresh water available or that Seaboard couldn't obtain water from other means to meet requirements.
"It has not been determined that the amount of water is insufficient; only that it is scarce," the agency said in the response.
Sierra Club cites a recent Kansas Geological Survey report that the aquifer at the site is "effectively exhausted."
The Sierra Club is studying its options to further address the issues, according to the release. The expansion, which the Sierra Club says will make the facility the nation's second-largest hog feeding operation, allows up to 396,000 nursery pigs or up to 198,000 mature hogs. It would generate roughly twice as much waste as the city of Wichita. Before the expansion, the facility had been permitted to handle 264,000 nursery pigs, or 132,000 mature hogs.
According to an Associated Press story, Gilbert Bishop, who lives near the facility, wrote the KDHE in November saying his house well on his farm had gone dry since the facility opened, and said the health of farm families in the area has been negatively affected by the facility.
"The continual stench that this facility has brought to the neighborhood can only be fully known by those of us who live here," Bishop wrote. "Increasing the size of the facility will only make our lives here worse than they have already been made."
Janice Young, who farms land next to the hog farm, wrote to KDHE saying her family can no longer park their tractors nearby because the smell gets into the equipment and never goes away. She also told the agency that farmsteads in the area have had to drill more wells to have enough water, according to the AP article.
Seaboard did not immediately respond to a request by the AP for comment left Tuesday with its spokesman, David Eaheart.