KDHE: Greeley County hog farm in compliance

9/26/2012

Complaint received for hog farm odor.

Complaint received for hog farm odor.

BY ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has determined that a Greeley County hog operation is in compliance with its wastewater permit, after having received a complaint that the facility wasn't taking the required steps to reduce the odor produced by its operation.

On Aug. 7, Craig Volland, chairman of the Agriculture Committee of the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club, filed the complaint with the KDHE on behalf of a Greeley County resident who wished to remain anonymous. The complaint alleged that Seaboard Foods' Ladder Creek hog farm was failing to meet the requirements of its KDHE-issued wastewater permit requirement by failing to fill its wastewater lagoon to the 10-foot minimum biological treatment volume. The complaint was filed several weeks after Seaboard Foods began placing hogs in barns that feed the wastewater treatment lagoon at site no. 7.

In a follow-up letter to KDHE dated Sept. 19, Volland wrote, "This volume is needed to provide adequate treatment of the high strength swine wastes that come from these barns. The purpose of this treatment is to reduce odors that can impact the quality of life and well-being of neighbors."

In the letter, Volland went on to state that he checked the permit on file in Topeka on Aug. 31 and "found no mention of any response to our complaint about the minimum biological treatment volume." In the letter, which is addressed to Terry Medley, Chief Livestock Waste Management Section Bureau of Water at KDHE, Volland also said, "On September 11, you responded that Seaboard had received KDHE approval to populate the barns, even though they had filled the lagoon only to a much lower level than the 10 feet listed on the permit."

In response to the letter, Medley said that because the barns are not yet fully-populated, the required 10-foot level was adjusted downward, based on the actual waste that's being generated.

"That permit condition (10-foot level) is for a fully-populated facility," Medley said.

Fully-populated means from 1,000 to 1,200 fully grown hogs per barn. The lagoon at site 7 has the capacity to serve about 15 barns, or a total of 16,500 large swine.

There are 35,750 small pigs at site 7, David Freise, KDHE Plan Review Engineer and Permit Director, said, adding that the fill level in the lagoon also is determined by overall weight and that the 10-foot level is only a requirement at the full 16,500-swine capacity.

The corporate response from Seaboard Foods to the complaint was, "The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) issued a permit to Seaboard Foods to operate the Ladder Creek farm, and we are committed to following the permit requirements as directed by the department."

Volland said that the 10-foot level is based on the theory that it will allow reduction of odor through a biological process called anaerobic digestion, a treatment that operates without oxygen in it.

"The problem with anaerobic treatment systems is that they generate a large number of compounds that are odorous at very small concentrations, so that's why that type of system is going to create odor anyway, but it's going to create a lot more if they don't dilute the process with clean water. So that's the reason why we are calling attention to this because according to our source, this thing is stinking and it's creating flies, as well, which is not uncommon with hog factories," Volland said. "What we're trying to do is to get KDHE to enforce the permit, so it will reduce the odor that the people around it have to endure."

Volland said that the solution is for KDHE to send an inspector to take photographs of the 11-acre lagoon at site No. 7 to verify that it's at the 10-foot level.

"That would be satisfactory," he said, adding that the lagoons have white marks on the sides, indicating feet.

"Maybe they've already done that, but what they should do is verify that they have, in fact, met the permit condition."

Medley said that an inspection was performed on July 10. Seaboard Foods also supplied KDHE with a photo of the lagoon's current fill level on Sept. 20, which showed that it was 4.5 feet below the 10-foot level.

"It's all based on biological loading of the system so that it can be based on the largest and greatest number of hogs that Seaboard had planned on being in there, and at this point, since they're just starting out with smaller pigs, that really isn't all that applicable because it's all based on loading," Medley said, adding that once the sizes and weights of the hogs are at full capacity, Seaboard will have to comply with the 10-foot level.

Medley said that he is continuing to monitor the situation, and if warranted, another inspector will be sent to the facility to ensure compliance.

Mayor Tom Farmer, who also is on the Unified Board of Supervisors in Tribune, said he has heard no complaints about the hog operation.

"I've heard nothing but good things, so I'm surprised to hear about that," Farmer said about the complaint. "Usually, if there is an issue, someone will come in and complain, but that just hasn't happened."

Volland said that he also is looking into whether there is enough water in the area to support the hog farm, an issue brought up by some Greeley County farmers in December 2011, after Greeley County residents voted 205-121 in a non-binding referendum to allow major hog farms in the county.

Seaboard is the second largest hog producer in the United States. It produces and sells pork products in the United States, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Korea and other foreign markets. Only North Carolina-based Murphy-Brown, LLC is a larger pork production company. Seaboard already has operations near Hugoton and Leoti. In Guymon, Okla., the Seaboard plant processes about 18,500 hogs a day.

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