Kenai residents wary of proposed large pig farm

Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- Kenai residents are expressing concerns about the environmental impact of bringing a large-scale pig operation to the peninsula.

The League of Women Voters sponsored a forum on the issue last Thursday to air concerns and questions about the proposal.

Project president Dick Metteer is proposing using state money to fund a $400,000 feasibility study on a farm that would produce 600,000 pigs annually. The Legislature has not taken up the issue.

Many of those attending the forum voiced opposition to the project because of possible harm to the environment.

Robert Ruffner, of the Kenai Watershed Forum, expressed concern about waste.

''The best solution we have for (human) waste in Soldotna is to treat it and pump it into the river,'' he said. ''Pigs produce 10 times as much waste as people. I really don't see how we're going to come up with a solution for pigs on the Kenai Peninsula.''

Metteer said creating an environmentally-friendly process would take precedent.

''If we can't do it safely, we're not going to do it,'' he said. ''And with the science and technology available today, we can accomplish this.''

The Alaska Pork Project, a coalition of companies that wants to establish the pork industry in Alaska, seeks to capitalize on the state's proximity to pork markets in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, Metteer said.

Metteer's plan calls for a confined animal feeding operation that would house pigs in closed-in barns where waste would be funneled away from the animals through troughs beneath the ground.

Metteer estimates the farm would create 460 full-time jobs that would offer benefits and wages between $11 and $12 per hour. His group has discussed leasing a 2,400-acre tract of land from the Ninilchik Native Association, 17 miles east of the Sterling Highway.

David Thomas, an independent environmental engineer in Kenai, participated in the forum to offer an opposing point of view.

''One of the striking things about large-scale swine operations is the incredibly bad smell and the great distance over which it spreads,'' Thomas said. ''Not that large cattle feed lots, dairy barns or sheep ranches smell wonderful, but pork waste is in a class of its own.''

Sterling resident Peggy Toppenberg said she and her husband, John, moved from Iowa to escape the unpleasant odor from hog farms near their home there.

''I came up here because of the natural resources,'' she said. ''And I don't want to see this place turned into an Iowa.''

Metteer said manure would be injected into the ground where plants growing in the area could benefit from the nutrients found in the material. Waste that was not injected into the soil would be turned into compost and marketed as fertilizer, he said.

Thomas said another concern is the risk of illness to those working in the feeding buildings.

''In conventional swine housing units, 20 percent of workers suffer from chronic health effects such as bronchitis. For confined swine operations, this rises to 58 percent,'' he said.

But Metteer said regulatory demands and fanning and filtration systems would alleviate any such issues.

''This is a very highly regulated business,'' Metteer said. ''In order for you to even go into business, there are certain criteria you have to meet. And if you do not, you're not in business.

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