A public hearing to receive comments about a plan to establish a cattle feedlot about five miles southeast of Canton drew about 55 people to the town?s community center Thursday evening.
At issue was a permit application submitted to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment by Brad Klaassen, a local farmer, to build a new facility that would have a capacity for up to 999 head of cattle weighing greater than 700 pounds.
The facility, to be located at 29th Avenue and Iron Side Road about a mile west of the McPherson-Marion county line, would consist of about 7.1 acres of open lot pens and 1.7 acres of feed-storage area.
The purpose of the hearing was to receive additional input from residents and neighbors before a final ruling on the permit.
Allison Herring, the public hearing officer who works as an environmental administrator for KDHE?s South Central District, said the office had already collected more than 30 written comments about the project containing more than 40 signatures.
Prior to receiving additional comments, Maria Stevens, a KDHE environmental engineer from Topeka, told the crowd the feedlot project was designed with the assistance of the Natural Resource Conserva?tion Service to include vegetative buffers and other strategies to protect water sources from facility runoff.
?KDHE has evaluated the proposed plans and has determined that the proposed vegetated buffer areas are adequate to protect both surface water and ground water,? Stevens stated.
A variety of concerns
But when members of the public were invited to present their views on the project, it became clear most people who spoke did not trust KDHE?s determination.
The potential for water contamination was a frequent comment.
Jim Friesen, a farmer who lives less than a half mile from the proposed lot, said ?999 head of cattle produce a lot of brown water, and I doubt the filter strips will contain all of the brown water.?
Several additional concerns frequently surfaced during the meeting, including the inevitability of unpleasant odors, multiplication of flies and increased dust from traffic along the gravel roadways?all of which would damage the quality of life for residents, and likely devalue their property.
Issues for nearby church
One centerpiece of concern was the effect the new feedlot would have on the Spring Valley Mennonite Church, situated less than a mile south/southeast from the site.
Member Rod Huebert of Mound?ridge described the church as ?the oldest Menno?nite church west of the Mississ?ippi.?
?They?ve tried to be a good neighbor to all, and yet the feedlot would make for problems,? Huebert said, even driving away current and future attenders because of the accompanying issues.
?Some have already said they will not attend if it goes in,? he said.
Viola Ratzlaff, an 86-year-old farmwife, recently widowed, said her late husband had lived near the proposed site since 1930; she joined him when they were married in 1947.
Ratzlaff said ?the feedlot would be like a death sentence? for the church, of which they were longtime members.
?We?ve heard there are feedlots for sale all over Kansas,? she said. ?My question is, why don?t they just buy an established feedlot instead of adding a new one??
Impact on townships
Two speakers, Michael Renkin and Marvin Wert, representing Spring Valley and Canton townships, respectively, expressed concern about the financial impact for road damage created by increased traffic, particularly large semi trucks.
Renkin said the feedlot would generate some tax revenue for the township budget, but ?this single entity would not justify the cost of maintaining the roads? given the expense of equipment, labor and materials.
Wert said the rural intersections near the site ?are not large enough to handle both inbound and outbound trucks.?
Marybeth Bitikofer, who lives near the proposed site, addressed the gathering from her wheelchair. Noting her limited mobility, she said, ?One of the main joys I can enjoy by myself is to get outdoors and enjoy my yard. I really do not want odors and flies to be right across from me and take away this pleasure I enjoy in life.?
In all, seven speakers spoke on their own behalf, with a couple of them reading additional statements on behalf of family members unable to attend.
Contacted by the Free Press over the weekend, the 28-year-old Klaassen said he is simply trying to provide a livelihood for his wife and future family.
He said he bought the farmyard near the proposed feedlot in 2011, and he and his wife moved onto it after they were married in 2011.
?This is going to be a family farm, and a lot of my neighbors feed cattle, too,? he said. ?I just want to raise cattle just like they did.?
Klaassen said many people don?t realize how stringent the state is when it comes to these kinds of cattle operations.
?NRCS and the Kansas Health Department, they?re very rigorous on regulating me and making sure that I follow the rules,? he said. ?I spent over a year developing that with NRCS. They have such strict standards. We had to work really hard to make sure it was done right.
?They come out here to inspect the feedlot and make sure I?m doing things right,? Klaassen added. ?There are a lot of rules. Kansas is the most regulated state when it comes to feedlots.?
Klaassen said he has tried to present his case to his neighbors.
?We don?t want to make things difficult,? he said. ?I really care about my neighbors. I?ve gone to a lot of the neighbors? houses and explained it to them. I can only say so much about what I believe.
?We really want to work with our neighbors.?
No timetable was announ?ced at the public hearing for KDHE?s decision regarding Klaassen?s permit application.