The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) has granted permission for a mega-dairy to be built in rural McLean County, although opponents are continuing to fight against it.
The IDA is allowing the dairy, called the Stone Ridge Dairy, to be built despite organized opposition from many people who live near the site of the proposed facility. Citizens from McLean, Piatt, DeWitt, and Champaign Counties formed the Quad County Clean Air and Water Coalition, which held a press conference on September 7 to urge the Illinois Department of Agriculture not to approve the dairy plans. The IDA was also aware of resolutions against the dairy from Champaign County, the villages of Bellflower, Fisher, Mahomet, and Mansfield, and the township of Blue Ridge.
Stone Ridge, if built, will be the largest dairy in the state of Illinois. It will have 6,105 head of livestock and be established on 90 acres of land in McLean County, near Bellflower. Included in its plans are two quarter-mile-long barns to house the milking cows, a milking parlor, and other livestock facilities.
At the heart of the issues surrounding the Stone Ridge Dairy is its plan for waste management. The Stone Ridge Dairy would utilize a 26-acre ‘lagoon’ to store the waste produced by the cattle. Residents are worried that the lagoon might leak or spill. Leakage from the lagoon could contaminate wells in the Bellflower area and then contaminate the
Mahomet Aquifer, the underground source of drinking water for most of east central Illinois.
Factory farms in Illinois have contaminated water systems before. Last February, at the Inwood Dairy near Elmwood, Illinois (which has fewer animals than Stone Ridge will have), employees pumped more than two million gallons of waste from the dairy’s lagoon into a ravine. The ravine then overflowed into Kickapoo Creek.
Opponents also point out that the dairy developer who wants to build Stone Ridge, George Kasbergen, has a less than perfect record with regard to pollution control. Last spring, he was cited for 10 water pollution violations at his Spring Grove Dairy in Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the dairy “failed to submit semi-annual reports on samples of liquids flowing out of the farm; modified its manure storage channels without notifying the state or obtaining required state approval; built new manure storage facilities without a permit; created new outdoor animal lots without adequate runoff control; failed to maintain a feed storage leachate and runoff collection system; failed to report major manure spills…” and committed other violations as well.
Residents of McLean County and nearby are also concerned about foul odors that would emanate from the Stone Ridge lagoon. In the August 16 issue of the Indy, a newspaper published in Bloomington-Normal, Karen Hudson, a family farmer who lives near the Inwood Dairy, wrote, ” In 1998, a dairy factory was built in our community. Recently I visited a neighbor of the dairy factory whose home is legally beyond the minimum setback distance from this operation. Candles burn frequently in this home in an attempt to quell the stench that permeates the walls. They are compelled to keep perfume bottles in the bedroom nightstand, ‘spray the perfume’ in an attempt to mask the stench that often becomes worse in the early morning hours.”
Other problems surround factory farms like the one planned for Bellflower. Some opponents of the Stone Ridge Dairy are worried about the treatment of the animals there. Animal rights and anti-factory-farm groups have documented the poor treatment of animals at many large-scale animal facilities. Because factory farms are designed for
maximum efficiency and profitability, these organizations say, their livestock are often treated more like machines than like living organisms. These groups have found that at many factory farms, animals are confined indoors for most of their lives. The animals are often in poor health and, as a result, their feed must be laced with antibiotics. They are also injected with drugs and hormones. Dairy cows are often treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), a genetically engineered product which increases the amount of milk a cow produces, but which also makes cows more susceptible to diseases like mastitis, an inflammation of the udder. When residents of McLean County visited Mr. Kasbergen’s Spring Grove Dairy near Brodhead, Wisconsin, they observed cows with swollen udders from hormone treatments. The cows at the Spring Grove Dairy are treated with rBGH.
Finally, opponents are concerned about the impact of mega-dairies such as Stone Ridge on family farms. Family farms have an increasingly hard time surviving today, partially because of factory farms like the Stone Ridge Dairy. Small farms owned by just one family find it extremely difficult to compete with large-scale operations, which produce cheaper meat and dairy products at the expense of the environment, our health, and their livestock’s well being. Control of farming is slipping away from individual growers, and becoming increasingly consolidated in the hands of a few corporations. Opponents fear the eventual extinction of small-scale, family-run farms.
Don Rolla, a member of the Quad County Clean Air and Water Coalition, says that the organization is currently exploring two options for having the mega-dairy shut down or never built. The Coalition is proceeding with a lawsuit which would have the dairy declared a nuisance. The dairy could then be shut down. They are also calling attention to a portion of a contract Mr. Kasbergen’s entered into with Bellflower Township, a provision regulating Stone Ridge Dairy’s use of heavy equipment on county roads which the Coalition’s lawyer has said is illegal.
According to the Coalition’s September 5 press release, the McLean County road commissioner demanded that Kasbergen improve the nearby road if the mega-dairy intended to use it. Kasbergen refused to improve the road. Kasbergen then somehow convinced Bellflower Township’s road commissioner to enter into an agreement which allows Kasbergen to exceed the township’s load limits in exchange for Kasbergen’s willingness to ‘consider’ making payments to repair the township road if Kasbergen agrees that such repairs are necessary. According to the Coalition’s attorney, Illinois law does not grant a road commissioner the right to arbitrarily enforce road limits. Effectively, the agreement would allow Kasbergen to habitually violate load limits while other users of the road must abide by them. This discriminatory enforcement is illegal, according to the Coalition’s attorney, and thus the contract is null and void. The Coalition is hoping to have Mr. Kasbergen’s agreement nullified, thereby disrupting his plans to build Stone Ridge Dairy.
Members of the Quad County Clean Air and Water Coalition are still hopeful that they will be able to stop the Stone Ridge Dairy and save central Illinois from a potential health and environmental hazard.
Two articles in the August 16 issue of the Indy, an independent newspaper from Bloomington-Normal, also explain the harmful effects of factory farms, and provide an in-depth explanation of the lagoon disaster at the Inwood Dairy. That edition of the Indy is available free of charge at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center.