Investigators: Hog haven on the horizon? - KMSP-TV

Investigators: Hog haven on the horizon?

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Minnesota's central lakes area has always been treasured by those who love to swim and fish, but large farming operations from Iowa are eyeing that part of our world.

Some residents are hesitant to welcome those new neighbors, saying they believe it is just the beginning of a trend that will dramatically change the area -- and they're making a big stink about it.

Corey and Amiee Goodwin live in Leslie Township, and they are fighting to block a 4,000-hog barn that would be built in Todd County within a mile of 14 homes. The proposed site is also just 3 miles from Lake Osakis, one of the state's largest lakes. The body of water is one of the top 10 in Minnesota for walleye fishing and bird watching.

A longtime family hog operation from Webster City, Iowa, hopes to build that barn. It would be run by the Gourley brothers, who have a clean environmental record in Iowa and have grown from a single family farm to a multi-million dollar operation that produces 60,000 pigs a year.

They want to move sows and their newborns to the rural Minnesota bean field because the location is isolated. Currently, their sow barn in Iowa has so many hog neighbors in close proximity that their animals kept getting sick. The pigs get fevers and sometimes, litters are lost when the baby pigs fall ill; however, it is important to note that there is no risk to humans from the pig virus.

The feedlot would be a $7-million investment in one of the poorest counties in the state, but some in Todd County say possible environment costs may outweigh the money it brings in.

County Commissioner Randy Neumann told FOX 9 News he fears the operation could scare away tourists from all the nearby lakes, including Lake Osakis.

The Goodwins also fear what would happen if there was a manure spill. They say it is possible it could run into a ravine that travels behind their home, leak into Dismal Creek -- which leads into the Long Prairie River -- and eventually end up in Lake Osakis.

Gene Gourley says the barn is designed to make sure spills don't happen, but there is a state-approved plan just in case. The manure would be stored in a concrete pit under the barn until it is emptied in the fall.

Then the plan calls for it to be pumped through hoses to nearby farms during three weeks in the fall. Though the prospect of free fertilizer for the first three years could be called "liquid gold" for local farmers, neighbors downwind are already turning up their noses.

It's not just the odor they're worried about. It's also the air quality. Two of the Goodwin's sons have asthma, and the family worries that any decrease in air quality from the nearby pig farm could trigger more asthma attacks even though the state's pollution control agency says air quality models show odor and toxic emission would be well under state guidelines.

Goodwin says she can't take the chance. She'll move from land that's been in her husband's family for three generations.

The FOX 9 Investigators traveled to a feedlot in southern Minnesota, much like the one proposed in Todd County. Paul Fitzsimmons and his family own it and would also manage the Todd County barn if it's built.

Reporter Trish VanPilsum stood in the comparable locations where the closest Todd County neighbors would be. On that day she didn't smell the barn itself and reported that someone would have to get close to the barn's exhaust fans to smell anything bad; however, she did smell the manure being spread in nearby fields. The FOX 9 Investigators returned several days later and found the smell of the manure being spread was stronger and more unpleasant.

The FOX 9 Investigators also checked Iowa state records. The Gourley Brothers have never had a manure spill, but that doesn't mean they never happen.

In the past five years, there have been 272 spills in Iowa -- either at the feedlots themselves or while pumping the manure to the farm fields. Twenty percent of those spills impacted nearby water quality, and 3 percent caused fish kills.

The Todd County residents who spoke with The Fox 9 Investigators say they're not opposed to farming overall, just to such a large farming operation that they believe will alter their way of life.

The Todd County Board of Commissioners has the final say. It will take up the issue Tuesday, Nov. 6.

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