Sibley raising a stink about proposed swine facility

PAXTON — Like some village trustees in Sibley, some members of the Ford County Board are concerned about the possibility that a strong odor of hog manure could invade the town if a proposed swine facility is built too close to village limits.

County board members and village trustees alike expressed their concerns Friday that the facility’s proposed location 1.5 miles west of Sibley could cause an issue for the town’s 272 residents, especially since winds usually come out of the west.

“I’m getting numerous calls and people stopping me on the street about the (potential) odor for the town,” Sibley Village Board President Jim Kearney told the county board’s five-member zoning committee. “We are already surrounded on three sides with hog farms, and this would completely surround us.”

Kearney said he is primarily concerned that the odor could negatively impact Sibley residents’ quality of life, noting that a number of outdoor events are held each year in town, including weddings, 5K races, car shows and Independence Day celebrations.

But Kearney said he is also worried about the smell hurting Sibley’s chances of gaining more businesses, not just on the edges of town but in town, as well. An extensive restoration of Sibley’s downtown buildings was recently completed, Kearney noted.

Village trustees Greg Brucker and Corey Volker expressed similar concerns about the 5,600-head swine facility. Volker said the facility would be built just  7,700 feet from Sibley along Illinois 165, with “open pit fans blowing on 5,600 hogs’ worth of manure upwind from the city.”

“I’m for ag and all that type of stuff,” said Brucker, a farmer. “But it’s so close (to village limits) ... and we’re really concerned with there being that many hogs.”

The Sibley officials asked county board members to take into account their concerns when the full 12-member county board votes next Monday on whether to support the facility’s construction through a non-binding recommendation to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The Sibley Village Board was to take its own vote on whether to support the project during its Feb. 4 meeting.

The county board’s recommendation — which must be made by March 5 — will be based on whether the board feels the proposed facility meets or does not meet each of eight siting criteria from the Illinois Livestock Management Facilities Act, said county board member Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts.

The state ag department found that the facility does meet all eight criteria during a public hearing last month. While the state has the final say on whether the project moves forward — with a deadline of March 20 to make a final decision — county board member Randy Ferguson of Gibson City said he feels the county board’s and village board’s concerns “might carry some weight.”

Ihrke said it is possible those concerns could prompt the state to ask the owners and operators of the proposed swine facility — 23-year-old Philip Hartman and his brother, Caleb, and their father, Ryan — to alter their plans, perhaps by moving the facility farther from town.

While the state has found that the facility has met all eight siting criteria, Ihrke said she has “an issue” with one of the findings — that construction of the facility is consistent with existing community growth, tourism, recreation or economic development. Ihrke said it was never mentioned at the hearing that there are “prevailing winds” from the west.

“So I don’t know if these prevailing winds were taken into account,” Ihrke said. “There’s no topographical map either to show whether this (facility) would be on a hill in relation to the town.”

“It’s on high ground in relation to the town,” Volker told Ihrke.

“So I think that there is a high risk of odor hitting the town,” Ihrke concluded. “I think it’s a real concern for the town, and it’s more about the placement of the building — it’s not that they don’t want these people to build it; it’s the placement of it that’s the problem.”

County board member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton said the smell could be a real problem for Sibley residents.

“They’re going to have all this manure underneath the barn and fans blowing the smell out,” McQuinn said. “Isn’t that going to be an ongoing, everyday smell?”

County board member Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley said her main concern is that there seems to be no way for Sibley residents to have any potential odor issues mitigated.

“My concern is there’s no place for people to complain,” Ann Ihrke said.

Ferguson asked the three Sibley officials in attendance whether the village might accept as a solution the possibility of having the facility moved farther west from town limits.

“I mean, if they put it on the far-west edge of their property, is that something that the (village) board would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on, or is it just, ‘That’s still not far enough’?” Ferguson asked.

“I can’t speak for everybody at this time, until we have a meeting,” Brucker responded.

Kearney noted that the other three hog facilities around Sibley are “a little farther out” than the one planned by the Hartmans; however, Kearney said Sibley residents can sometimes still smell the odor they create.

Jake Nims, an attorney representing the Hartmans, said at last month’s hearing that there would be a maximum manure storage capacity of one year, and the hog house’s strong concrete design plans would eliminate any chance that manure would seep out. The manure is planned to be drilled into farmland on the Hartmans’ 630 acres surrounding the building using an injection method rather than simply spreading it on top of the soil, which cuts down on odor, Nims added.

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