By Jim Magdefrau
VINTON – Action again was tabled at a land use hearing by the Benton County Board of Supervisors, regarding a change in land use in rural Newhall for use as an Amana Farms Inc. fertilizer storage facility. The meeting was Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at the Benton County Service Center in Vinton.
The supervisors wanted to wait to get an opinion from the county attorney to see how recent legislation affects the boards’ jurisdiction in deciding what is and isn’t allowed on land in the county.
Action was originally tabled at the board’s July 12 meeting, so the board could visit the tanks belonging to Amana Farms in Iowa County. The board also wanted to wait, since one of the three supervisors was not at the July 12 meeting.
The land being considered is in Section 31 of Eldorado Township. It is now owned by Steve and Scott Thompson.
Past hearing summarized
Benton County Land Use Administrator Marc Greenlee gave a history of this land use change request. At that hearing, Greenlee gave a technical review. Amana Farms asked for a change in land use for three to five acres to create a commercial fertilizer storage facility. It is 2,075 feet south of Highway 30, along 23rd Avenue. They planned a storage tank that would hold 1.5 million gallons of fertilizer. Amana Farms is a contractor for IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances). They haul away and land apply some of their effluent stream from that manufacturing process. The stream qualifies as a liquid fertilizer by the State of Iowa and is regulated by the state. It contains phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, and other microbe nutrients. The site has been used by the Iowa Department of Transportation for a concrete plant and borrow pit for the overpass project.
The land to be used has a Corn Suitability Rating of 68 on a 100 scale. Benton County works to protect farmland with a rating of 70 and higher. Greenlee had worked to get a new CSR for this since the use of the land was disrupted.
Surrounding land uses are primarily crop ground, which is also a part of his technical review. The nearest resident is approximately 2,800 feet away. Others were 3,000 feet away. He said this was relevant, since Amana Farms noted that when the material is loaded or off-loaded, there can be an odor. For comparison, he said the distance is farther than what would be required for a residence near a hog facility.
The county is also required to notify anyone within 500 feet of a proposed land use change. Four adjacent property owners were notified.
The land is next to a level B road, which might be difficult to maintain in the winter time. He also summarized comments that were made at the previous hearing. No action was taken at that hearing.
Supervisor Chairman Tracy Seeman said the supervisors went to the facilities in Iowa County owned by Amana Farms. They also visited a field where the fertilizer was applied. “Yes, there is an odor,” Seeman commented. He added it was not over-powering.
Supervisor Richard Primmer pointed out that action on the July 12 meeting was tabled because he was not at the meeting. He also did not find the odor to be “objectionable.” It had been injected two days before.
The board wondered if Benton County really has a say in the matter, or if they will be superseded by the State of Iowa. He referred to Iowa House File 2512, and House File 2477, passed in 2020. Primmer felt this raised legal questions regarding agricultural or commercial uses. He wants to see a legal counsel response to it.
Greenlee explained these laws are for existing farm uses. He did not feel the laws applied to the uses outlined in the law. He added the law does muddy the waters on what the county does with land use, and what is agricultural and non-agricultural use.
Supervisor Gary Bierschenk said he was impressed with the lack of smell. “There really wasn’t much smell to it,” he observed about the visit to the Iowa County properties. He was also impressed with the condition of the sites. “They were clean. They were well cared for.”
John McGrath of Amana Farms explained that IFF is expanding its operation, which created the need for this. Fertilizer needs to be stored in winter months, since it can’t be applied on frozen ground. There will be odor when the tank is filled and or emptied. It could last five to 10 days. They have been handling this product since 2008 and installed tanks in the Amana area in 2016. They use it for 9,000 acres. The Highway 30 site checked a lot of boxes.
A representative from IFF also explained the history of the product, saying it is a good product.
Primmer asked what the problem was, because they have met all of the criteria for Benton County. Landowner Steve Thompson also pointed to the economic benefit, considering the cost of fertilizer now. He felt his farms would use half of the tank and the rest could be used by area farmers.
Benton County Assessor Larry Andreesen also explained the difference between being assessed as agricultural and commercial land.
Seeman asked for opinions from neighbors of the site. Tim Sage, Van Horne, said he supported this, saying the county needs economic development. It gives farmers another option for fertilizer. The tax base also needs to be larger. He felt the county was giving this business the run-around. Another neighbor had concerns how often there would be an odor. She asked how many jobs this would provide. McGrath explained there would would be trucking jobs.
Another neighbor asked about truck traffic. His biggest concern was also the smell. Rod Bridgewater said he is two miles away from the site, and is concerned about the traffic. McGrath explained the traffic expectations, and stressed that they prefer to go from the plant directly to the fields. This tank is for winter storage.
Primmer observed it has an odor to it. So do hog confinements and dairy farms. “We have a lot of pissed off people about odor,” Primmer added. “Where do we draw the line? Do we draw it just for this, or do we draw the line for dairies and hog confinements?”
Another neighbor was concerned about additional commercial property along Highway 30, such as a truck stop. Another was concerned about the view.
Primmer said the 1986 land ordinance needs to be looked at for things like solar energy, windmills and fertilizer plants. It goes back to the CSR of 70. When asked whom he represents, the minority or the majority of the people, Primmer answered, “I represent the people and I represent the county ordinances.”
Primmer continued that none of the people like smell, but there is no county ordinance prohibiting smell. Greenlee added that the State of Iowa doesn’t regulate it. Primmer didn’t want the supervisors to be the “bad guys” in this.
Primmer said that the way the ordinance reads now, he didn’t know how the board could deny this request.
Seeman wanted a legal opinion on this. He also said he didn’t want to cause a rift in the community.
“Are we open for business in Benton County?” asked Benton Development Group Director Kate Robertson. She said this is a large investment into the county. The facility needs to be built before the ground freezes, McGrath added.
Seeman also explained people have been calling him for a week about this. If the facility is built and it stinks, he has to look at the people who called him.
Thompson added he doesn’t want enemies.
Primmer said he didn’t want to see this matter strung out. There was no date on when the decision will be made.