STERLING – The state Department of Agriculture will have a hearing today on three complaints against a hog operation near East Lincolnway businesses.
Farmer Norm Koster said state officials believe that the farm, which now has 1,000 pigs, should be regulated as an animal feeding operation.
The city of Sterling has complained to the state about the farm, which is just north of East Lincolnway behind Applebee’s.
Koster insists that it’s not an animal feeding operation, and that the hogs aren’t confined. Rather, they graze over a 120-acre farm.
Because it’s so close to Sterling’s main retail district, the farm has attracted local attention.
Last year, customers of Applebee’s and other businesses complained about the odor.
During the winter, some people worried about the hogs’ welfare as the temperature repeatedly dropped below zero. Just last month, a pig escaped and visited the Mobil service station at least a couple of times, causing one man to jump on the hood of a car.
In an Aug. 13 email to the Department of Agriculture, City Manager Scott Shumard said some residents were frustrated with the farm.
He said he understood that the property is under the county’s jurisdiction and zoned for agriculture. However, he said, people have complained, because the farm is so close to Applebee’s and Carmike Cinemas.
“We, of course, are not in a position to regulate it, as only the Department of Agriculture can,” Shumard wrote in the email. “We understand that there are potentially requirements for setbacks if the number of ‘animal units’ reaches different levels. We also understand the hogs should be kept on planted ground and not on bare ground, per EPA rules. We are certain that has not always been the case.”
In a reply email, Brad Beaver, an official in the Department of Agriculture, said the agency was aware of the frustrations and “working through our investigative process” to ensure compliance with state law.
In a Sept. 6 email, Shumard said he had received a complaint about the amount of dust and odor created by the farm.
In an interview Tuesday, Shumard said the complaints about the farm had not stopped.
“There is concern over whether he is running the operation as he is supposed to,” Shumard said. “We understand that he has the right to operate there. The question is whether he is following all the requirements.”
Under state law, animal feeding operations are considered places where livestock are stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12 months.
Koster said he constantly rotates his pigs to different areas of the farm.
“I want the animals to spread their manure over the entire field,” he said. “The entire field will get the benefit of the nutrients.”
Soon, Koster plans to move the pigs off the farm and plant corn.
He said the state received two other complaints besides the city’s, but the state wouldn’t identify them. He found out about the city’s complaints through a Freedom of Information Act request, which yielded Shumard’s emails.
Jeff Squibb, a Department of Agriculture spokesman, said the department is investigating a complaint that Koster failed to file a notice of intent for construction of an animal feeding operation, which carries a fine of up to $1,000.