Attorney General Sues Over Stink

By Mike Kroll

On August 24th the Illinois Attorney General's office filed suit against Henco Hogs, LLC and its manager Steve Giertz of Biggsville alleging that their Fall Creek Farm has repeatedly allowed the emission of ''offensive hog odors'' that ''have unreasonably interfered with the enjoyment of life and property by neighboring residents.''

The Attorney General's office has filed this suit at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The IEPA says that between June 1997 and February 1999 neighbors of Fall Creek Farm reported 221 ''offensive odor days'' and during the summer months these average more than 12 such days per month. In every case the complaining residents have maintained their residences since before the hog facility was constructed, three such homes fall within quarter mile to one-half mile from the facility. As stipulated by Illinois regulation the facility was constructed with a setback of at least a quarter mile from neighboring homes.

Operations at the Fall Creek Farm, located approximately four miles northeast of Rozetta, commenced in July 1997. During that first year the ''farrow-to-wean'' operation produced 65,000 pigs which were shipped to finishing farms within 16 days of weaning. Court documents estimate the current population of mature swine at ''about 3,000'' but the designed capacity is for up to 2,738 animal units or ''6,260 swine over 55 pounds and 7,800 swine under 55 pounds.''

The principle source of the odor is believed to be a very large concrete manure pit located below the floor of the gestation building. This huge pit is eleven feet deep, 77 feet wide and 736 feet long. Smaller pits are located beneath the farrowing buildings and fans ventilate all of these pits. According to the lawsuit, ''the manure from the farrowing buildings gravity flows to the pit below the gestation buildingŠ the pit below the gestation building is large enough to hold accumulated waste for an entire year without being emptied.''

Even before the mega-hog farm was constructed the IEPA advised Henco Hogs ''that the potential for odor nuisance conditions was likely'' and ''advised the defendant that it did not recommend construction of a large-scale swine operation at the site of the Fall Creek Farm.'' Henco ignored this advice and built the farm in conformance to the setback requirement.

The IEPA subsequently conducted a ''field visit to the vicinity of the Fall Creek Farm on June 9, 1998'' and ''determined that the [facility] was the source of offensive hog odors.'' IEPA inspectors ''experienced a swine waste odor approximately three-quarters of a mile northwest of Fall Creek Farm and one-eighth mile west of one of the complainant's residence.'' The lawsuit contends that ''the generation and distribution of odor is inherent to the design of this facility.''

''In essence, the pit below the gestation building is a huge septic tank where hog wastes are allowed to decompose anaerobically, covered only by a slated floor and building. The resulting septic fumes generated by this system are pulled off the top of the pit and from the building by fans and exhausted directly into the environment. This design, although providing a high degree of water quality protection, creates a large and concentrated source of odorous air. The current and ongoing odor problem was predictable based on the manure handling system design.''

The lawsuit also contends that it is both technically and economically feasible to modify this design to prevent the odors now generated and ''although modification of the existing facility may be more expensive than having initially constructed it properly, modification is reasonably possible.'' Efforts to-date by Henco Farms to reduce odor problems include the use of chemical additives, pit aeration, tree planting and ''a neighbor relations effort'' have failed to eliminate complaints by neighbors.

The lawsuit asks the court to require Henco Farms to cease generation of the offensive odors, pay a civil penalty of $50,000 for each violation and $10,000 for each day a violation persists.

A pretrial conference was scheduled for this week.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online September 24, 1999

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