WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — State environmental regulators are defending their oversight of Seaboard Food Inc.'s hog-feeding operation in western Kansas, responding to criticism from the Sierra Club, which says officials are not enforcing an odor-control provision in the permit for the 132,000-hog operation.
The dustup over water levels in lagoons used to treat manure for odor control surfaced again Tuesday when the environmental organization criticized the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for its handling of the group's complaint filed in August. It was the third such complaint the Sierra Club has instigated against the Greeley County hog-feeding operation, the largest in Kansas and one of the largest in the country.
"I considered not doing this because it is just a technical issue, but the real issue is: Why hasn't KDHE enforced the actual language of the permit?" said Craig Volland, chairman of the agriculture committee for the Sierra Club's Kansas chapter.
The permit requires Seaboard's Ladder Creek site in Greeley County to maintain 10 feet of water in its lagoons. The lagoons allow mixing of clean water with the hog manure to help treat the waste.
"The reason for it is to protect neighbors from odor from 132,000 pigs," Volland said.
KDHE spokeswoman Miranda Steele said state statute gives the KDHE secretary discretion on such permits, including discretion about the levels of water in a lagoon when a facility is not operating at full capacity.
The Sierra Club says the facility is at 95 percent capacity.
"In this particular case, the secretary determined that it would really be a poor use of already scarce fresh water to have the operator maintain the lagoons at the full pool when that particular lot was not operating at full capacity," Steele said.
KDHE made a site visit in August to investigate the complaint, Steele said, and determined the facility met its plan of action and no further action was required.
Seaboard Foods said in an emailed statement that it is committed to "serving as responsible stewards of the environment in the communities in which we live, work and operate." The company said its commitment extends to ensuring it remains in compliance with environmental regulations and permits, including the one for its Ladder Creek farm.
KDHE issued the company a permit for the hog facility in December 2011. The operation is licensed for 132,000 mature hogs, or 264,000 nursery pigs, in 120 barns that each hold up to 1,100 hogs. Construction began in March 2012, and the first five completed sites were initially stocked with a total of nearly 63,000 animals.
During the comment period for the initial permit, several local residents warned there was not enough water available in the area, Sierra Club said.
Seaboard has since filed an application to expand their operation to 200,000 hogs which, if approved, would make the facility in Greeley County the second-largest in the nation, Sierra Club said.