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March 11, 2014
TOPEKA The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has approved expansion of Seaboard Farms’ Ladder Creek hog farm by 50 percent to house as many as 396,000 hogs at the Greeley County location.
Expansion of four additional 15-barn sites would make the hog growing operation the second-largest of its kind in the country. It is under fire from Kansas environmental activists that say the state shouldn't have approved the expansion permit because it doesn’t account for the lack of water required for proper waste disposal and residential spacing concerns.
“KDHE has issued a permit to Ladder Creek for an expansion of its facility in accordance with federal and state regulations,” KDHE wrote in a statement to the KHI News Service. “The permit issued by KDHE is for the purpose of protecting the state’s water quality, while the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Division of Water Resources, is responsible for water appropriations.”
In the latest of several skirmishes over the hog facility, the Sierra Club filed a complaint with KDHE’s Bureau of Water citing concerns about the amount of water needed for the farm's waste lagoons and the odor they produced.
KDHE responded to that complaint in a Feb. 27 letter to opponents of the expansion saying, “Nothing in the statutes or regulations makes it incumbent upon the Department to ensure the permittee has access to enough water to properly operate the waste management system."
Concerns were raised after a recent Kansas Geological Survey report called the Ogallala Aquifer at the site “effectively exhausted." On average groundwater levels in the aquifer have dropped 14 feet from 1996 to 2012 and more than 51 inches in 2011 alone.
The site requires a substantial amount of water to dilute biological waste in its sewage lagoons. The Sierra Club also objected to the handling of the odor created by the waste ponds, saying that KDHE didn’t hold the company accountable for the odor.
The group says that the site will produce twice as much waste as the City of Wichita and that last fall the department allowed the company to skip a permit requirement to fill its ponds to the proper levels needed to reduce the odor.
“It's abundantly clear that Kansas rulemaking never anticipated the kind of massive facilities that can be built by any big pork producer that so desires," said Craig Volland, Agriculture Committee Chair of the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club. "The neighbors to these huge operations will surely suffer the consequences of obnoxious odor and, in some cases, dry wells."
KDHE Secretary Dr. Bob Moser is a former resident of Greeley County, where he once directed Greeley County Health Services.
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