By ROSS BROWN

bluehavanaross@gmail.com

SIBLEY — Opponents and supporters of a proposed 5,600-head swine facility under consideration by the Illinois Department of Agriculture packed the Sullivant Town Hall in Sibley Thursday night to hear details about the project and to voice their opinions.

The 121-by-380-foot building has yet to be approved by state ag department and is also awaiting approval from the Ford County Board, which has until March 5 to send a letter of recommendation to the state, which then has until March 20 to make a final decision on the development.

Two state ag department administrators introduced the Hartman family, owners and operators of property 1.5 miles west of Sibley along Illinois 165 where the facility is to be built.

The 23-year-old Philip Hartman told the audience he will operate the hog farm with his brother, Caleb, and their father, Ryan. Philip Hartman and his wife are currently living in the large farmhouse west of Sibley.

Jake Nims, a partner in the Frank & Mims law firm in Springfield, spoke to the audience on behalf of the Hartman family. Nims addressed the eight points of criteria from the Illinois Livestock Management Facilities Act which determine if a facility is in compliance with state code.

Nims first said that the facility’s proposal was sent to the state ag department on Nov. 15 and was finalized on Nov. 29, meaning that it has been certified. Nims explained that the 5,600-head count is based on the fact that some hogs do not carry enough weight to be classified as one head, meaning the actual number is greater than the 2,240 head the application spelled out.

The second criterion asks "whether the design, location or proposed operation will protect the environment by being consistent" with state laws. Nims said the Hartmans have planned to construct their single-building facility and manure-holding pit with Midwest Plan Service, which he said is a university-based blueprint designed to prevent runoff and other environmental damage.

Nims said the hog farm is set back substantially from residences, noting it is farther away than the minimum setback requirements. Nims said the Hartman farm is 1,540 feet from neighboring residences and 3,080 feet from Sibley, also noting that the farm is not in an environmentally sensitive area.

Nims said the Hartmans plan to have a maximum manure storage capacity of one year, and the hog house’s strong concrete design plans will eliminate any change that manure would seep out. Nims said the facility will be designed to divert clean drinking water away from the facility so it will not be affected. 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 also said only four total trucks will be impacted along the highway, with those trucks being feed trucks and others for livestock transportation.

Following Nims’ presentation, a state ag department administrator opened the floor to audience members who were allowed first to ask questions, submit written testimony and finally speaking orally at a podium in the front for a maximum of three minutes each.

Retired Sibley hog farmer Paul Vetter asked Philip Hartman what type of a facility he would be operating. Hartman explained that the facility would be a finishing house, with contract hogs coming from Leman Farms of Eureka.

Vetter also asked about regular state inspections. Hartman said "no periodic inspections" will be conducted on a regular basis but that some facilities are inspected in five-year cycles and can also be inspected based on a complaint.

Mike Brown, who until 2007 operated two hog facilities within a quarter-mile of Sibley, asked Hartman if the building would have pit fans, to which Hartman replied that it would.

"That kind of ups the ante," Brown replied, "because the odor coming across the cross-tanks are minimal compared to the pit fans."

Sibley Village Board President Jim Kearney asked about the depth of the pits based on residents’ concerns regarding water contamination. Philip Hartman said the pit would be 144 to 146 feet, and he has posted that information with the state. Kearney also asked Hartman if he plans to construct a second building on the property later on, but Hartman said the one building is the only one planned for now.

Sibley resident Merlin Tjarks said he had concerns about runoff. Nims said runoff would not be possible due to the pit’s concrete being covered up in a way for that not to happen.

Paul Vetter’s wife, Marge, submitted a letter signed by 83 Sibley residents stating their opposition to the Hartmans’ hog operation. Marge Vetter told state ag department officials she is concerned about protecting the Mahomet Aquifer, which provides drinking water to the village. As president of the Sibley Business & Historical Association, she also said residents donated $70,000 to renovate the Sciota Street downtown area last spring and that it could be affected by odor.

Rich Perkins, a rural Sibley resident who lives with his wife, Diane, within two miles of four hog facilities all owned by the Mueller family, said he is opposed to the facility because it affects his livelihood.

"Wind the wind is right, we can’t open up our windows or even go outside," Perkins said. "I know people who live in this town, and we do business in this town, and I don’t want to see the smell drive (residents) against each other and people not wanting to do business or sell properties."

Perkins urged the Hartmans to control the odor.

Next up at the podium were three representatives of state agriculture boards who each spoke in favor of the Hartmans.

Mike Haag, president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association who farms in northeast Livingston County, noted that he grew up on a farm family and was excited to see the Hartmans making an investment in the profession.

"To see this type of investment made in a rural community is incredible," Haag said. "I think it’s also a blessing to see the younger generations brought back into the farming community; it’s a great opportunity to see this family being a part of it."

Dirk Rice, District 6 representative on the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, told state ag department officials that the "family is doing everything right, plus living on the farm." Rice added that his family likely would not have made it during downtimes in the grain economy without livestock on the side.

Mike Borgic of the Illinois Pork Producers Association said the association has quite a few family farms in Illinois as part of its membership but does not see many complaints from those facilities.

Bill Holliday, a Sibley resident, spoke out against the facility, saying the potential odor from the manure would destroy tourism, small businesses and property values.

Holliday also asked what purpose the family had by putting the building on the east side of the property.

"Why not put it on the southwest corner?" Holliday asked.

Holliday said the prevailing winds on most days come out of the west, meaning that the odor would likely be pushed eastward into Sibley.

Holliday also pointed out that the Mueller family has submitted an application for an identical facility to be built 1.3 miles east of Sibley, in addition to the several facilities they already own and operate in the area.

"We’re going to be completely surrounded by these hog farms," Holliday noted.

However, the final three speakers each said they believed the Hartmans’ facility would be a positive for Sibley, not a negative.

Rural Paxton farmer Jim Niewold, speaking on behalf of the Illinois Farm Bureau, said the group strongly supports family farms and the local economy.

"They are a good farm family," Niewold said. "They will do what they say they’ll do."

Rural Sibley native Tasha Bunting, who now works for the Farm Bureau, said the Hartmans are meeting all criteria and would not have many problems.

Nick Anderson of the Illinois Livestock Development Group pointed out that Sibley was founded with several smaller, family-operated farms where livestock was raised.

"This community was built on agriculture, and I think we should commemorate it," Anderson said.