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Water contamination, property rights, and water levels dominated the conversation at a public hearing held by the County Commission last Thursday. Despite public opposition, Ordinance 17-01-26, changing zoning from Range-In Forest to Agricultural Industrial was approved two to one.

The meeting was held to gain public input on the zone change to allow Smithfield Hog Production to install a facility close to the Beaver-Millard County line. The audience of 21 people was quick to voice their opinions on why the farm should be kept completely out of county.

The meeting was the third held by the commission. The previous two were held to discuss another facility four miles south of Deseret. Like its predecessors, the meeting was filled with contention.

Bill Coffman, who owns and operates Coffman’s Ranch close to the proposed site, told commissioners he was against the facility. The proposed site would only be seven miles from Coffman’s ranch, and would affect water lagoons near or on his property.

“There’s a lot of water sitting on the ground. We found a website that says that Smithfield has been fined for water contamination. What recourse do we have if something happens? Can Millard County guarantee we’d be reimbursed, when the water has run for thousands of years is affected?” Coffman said.

Boyd Schena, Deseret resident, asked how close the border facility would be in conjunction with Milford residents. He expressed concerns that the site will negatively affect Millard County’s relationship with Beaver County.

“I know [Smithfield Hog Production] is only seven miles from these people, but have we considered how close the buildings are to Milford residents? We already know that the Beaver county residents are having a tough time with them. And we don’t want to be rude neighbors, the way I look at it,” Schena said. “I think you, as our commissioners, should take that into consideration; because we’re awfully close to the Milford residents.”

Kelly Schena, a Deseret resident, reminded the commissioners of previous information regarding Smithfield Hog Production she had provided during previous hearings.

“The concerns regarding water quality are very real, and across the country because of this type of operation. It has detrimentally affected not only water quality, but also the health of people living near facilities like this,” she said. “I understand the purpose of an operation like Smithfield; it produces really cheap meat, and it’s affordable. But anytime it’s located near aquifers where people are drinking directly out of those sources, I think we need to think carefully about this. Let’s make sure we’ve done the research and read all the studies of past experiences.”

Schena reiterated Coffman’s previous statements of Smithfield’s previous water contamination charges. In a study conducted from 2010 to 2014, the company allegedly dumped 27.3 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways, according to pulse.ncpolicywatch.org. The hog waste caused an increase in wildlife illness and death.

“We also need to remember, that this company has a history of poor practice, and of siphoning what we think may be 80,000 gallons of hog sewage back into an aquifer, and failing to report it for 44 days,” she added. “That’s a matter of record. I ask that you please, take that into consideration when you allow them to cross the Millard County line.”

Gene Zufelt, Deseret resident, presented the commissioners with a signed petition of other citizens against rezoning for any of Smithfield’s facilities.

Jim Webb, a representative for Smithfield Hog, informed the commissioners that the company had proposed similar plans to Beaver County’s planning and zoning commission. The plans were met with support, he said.

“I was before them not very long ago, and we didn’t have any public opposition there. The Beaver planning and zoning encourages us to continue growing there,” Webb said. “That is a matter of public record. They like us there, they want us to grow there.”

Kanosh resident Todd McFarlane commended those involved in the process of public hearings and voicing their opinions for and against Smithfield’s proposed operations. He expressed disappointment that public clamor was a factor in the Johnson family dropping an application for a similar facility south of Deseret.

“I’m not disappointed in them,” McFarlane said. “I’m disappointed for them. I just want to say I’m personally not a fan for industrial agriculture, nor would I say I am an advocate, but having said that, I also recognize we are living in a world that requires for us to adopt new technologies. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but in this country, we’ve been very accustomed to cheap food; we like our cheap food, and we have some of the cheapest food in the world, and the reason we do is because of companies like Smithfield that have developed some of these more efficient practices.”

In regards to statements made towards Beaver county, McFarlane credits financial success to Beaver’s willingness to allow new companies to break ground within county lines. McFarlane said due to urban sprawl, companies like Smithfield and other industrial agriculture have been attracted to Millard County due to more acreage for facilities, resources, and steady economy.

Grant Hildebrand, a Delta resident, said he had read a study from Iowa State University, which specified land values dropped seven percent when located next to a facility like Smithfield Hogs. Hildebrand said Beaver County’s Commission’s opinion shouldn’t necessarily be considered, as they don’t live on the property where the proposed farm would be. “I say we take into consideration if we can keep it out of our county.” “There is a place in the world for something like that,” Hildebrand said, “but it’s not in our county. And I think we should have the right to say that.”

Gary Greener, Hinckley resident, said he didn’t think as though water contamination would be a severe issue, but said he was more concerned with water levels.

Steve Styler, attorney for Smithfield, reffered to comments on water levels and rights.

“The wells are already in existence, and the water has already been pumped, and has historically been used for agriculture. The water rights are there, and again that will be a matter for the state engineer to handle.” Styler said the wells are in both Beaver and Millard Counties. The wells are in water area 71, which stretches from Milford to Blackrock.

“I wanted to present a different point of view,” Kelly Schena said. “I understand and I appreciate that people want to be able to do whatever they want with the land that they own. But there’s this important thing called ‘zoning.’ It kind of helps us understand what we can expect and rely on in the future when we buy a piece of property. We have certain expectations for this property, and we expect a certain quality of life. In rural Utah, we are very tolerant of agriculture, and we understand the importance of that way of life.”

Schena urged to support local farmers and ranchers when it comes to buying meat, instead of turning to larger corporations. “Certainly there are going to be times where zoning is changed for an exception,” Schena said. “But we have a responsibility to people far more than we have a responsibility to pigs.”

McFarlane said Millard County already has industrial agriculture within its borders, namely with large scale dairies and poultry farms, and the county has plenty of room to accommodate another facility. “This isn’t the first time it’s come to Millard County,” he said. “And I don’t anticipate it to be the last.”