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State, borough need to examine potential hazards of pork project

Letters to the Editor

Posted: Friday, April 19, 2002

It's time for all Alaskans to take a hard look at the "pork" issue. It seems strange to me that we could develop an industry that would pay to import it's raw material -- grain -- raise the hogs in a challenging, non-efficient climate, pay to ship the pork overseas and still make a profit. I believe the only way this would be possible would be to bypass the many regulations being placed on the industry in the Lower 48 or overseas.

The environmental track record of this industry to date has been very poor, as attested to by the many laws, regulations and lawsuits in place or in process due to problems like contaminated wells, lakes, rivers, ocean beaches and noxious odors affecting health and quality of life.

We are being told by Mr. Metteer that his operation would comply with all E.P.A. and state regulations. From what I have been able to determine, by law "farming" is exempt from most, if not all, E.P.A. regulations, and the state has not addressed this issue of large scale hog operations.

Which means Metteer has no or very few regulations to comply with.

I believe under our current legal conditions, a large hog operation could be located near a residential area such as Mackey Lake, large holding ponds could be used and hog "stuff" could be spread on surrounding fields. Worst case, the odors would make residents sick and greatly affect their quality of life, wells could become polluted and over time even the lake would become polluted. The only recourse the residents would have would be to move, selling their property at greatly reduced prices. They could not sue to recover their loss because "farming" is exempt from such lawsuits.

Sixteen states currently have or are developing laws and regulations to get this industry under control. One state, Wyoming, which is a little like Alaska in that it still has some open land and was quite naive as to the dangers of large hog operations, selected an interesting approach to this problem. Upon learning of the intent of a large hog company to locate to the state, the governor stepped in and placed a two-year moratorium on any such moves, appointed a task team to study the issues and make recommendations to himself and the Legislature that would protect the residents and the environment and still allow the industry to move in.

Some of the controls adopted are:

Size limits are defined to differentiate farming (small operation) from industry (large operation).

Financial insurance is required to cover accidents and damage.

Detailed manure and water management plans that addressed air and water quality are required.

Set-backs from residents, schools, towns, wells and waterways were established.

I believe this approach would also work in Alaska. Here we could also establish guidelines to ensure watersheds and salmon habitat remain protected and our tourism industry is protected from the potential negatives of large hog operations.

The Kenai Peninsula is one of the most valuable pieces of land in Alaska in that its pristine environment is instrumental in the rearing of millions of salmon, the relatively mild climate provides an excellent location for raising our families, and these same traits promote a large tourism industry. All of this would be negatively impacted by the introduction of any high polluting industry.

As a point of interest, studies show a hog produces about three times the waste of a human. Therefore a 600,000 unit hog operation would be equivalent to managing the waste generated by a city of 1.8 million people. This would be no small task, and mistakes could be disastrous.

I strongly urge all Alaskans to contact their elected officials, from the mayor up to the governor, and request very clearly that Alaska put in place the proper laws, regulations and definitions that would govern all hog operations in such a manner that all residents and the environment would be protected from the adverse conditions caused by such operations.

John W. Ossowski, Soldotna



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