The Kenai City Council got a little hog shy at its Wednesday meeting.
Faced with a resolution in support of Soldotna businessman Dick Metteer's plan to build hog farms in Alaska and, potentially, the Kenai Peninsula, the council balked and instead decided to back a letter of support from the mayor.
The resolution before the council supported Metteer's acquisition of $396,500 in funding to complete a business plan to build an operation that could produce 660,000 heads of hog a year.
Two members of the public urged the council members to look into the impact of hog operations before supporting Metteer.
Phil North, of Kenai, said he was not asking the council to never support hog farming, just not to support it before looking into the problems the farms have caused in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and North Carolina.
"I would ask you to get the details and facts on this company and check its environmental compliance," North said. "Call the EPA folks in the Carolinas and see what kind of problems they have."
The company North referred to was the Dutch company Agriment International, which Metteer is working with on the project.
However, council member Duane Bannock grilled North on his comments.
"Do you think it is an environmental issue to develop a business plan?" Bannock asked.
North said no, but suggested it would be better to have the environmental facts on the table at the beginning of the discussions.
Ancel Johnson, of Funny River, said he and his wife retired to South Dakota for 10 years during a time hog farms moved there after running into regulatory problems back east.
"The history of pollution with these farms is very well publicized," he said, relating a story of how one county in South Dakota refused to permit a hog farm while the county just up river allowed it. He said the manure holding ponds overflowed during several wet years and flowed into the Big Sioux River, degrading it.
"I feel like Mr. North. Before you support this with a resolution, look into the information that is available," he said. "The Internet has many documents on hog farming."
Mayor John Williams asked what the differences are between hog farms and cattle feed lots, and why the hog farms have a worse reputation.
Johnson said feed lots are outdoors, where the waste mixes with the earth unadulterated. Hogs are kept and fed indoors, and huge amounts of water are used to hose them and the facility down, creating a lot of water contaminated with hog urine and feces.
He said even when the liquids and solids were separated, there was not enough farm land available to accept the amount of fertilizer in his area of South Dakota.
Pig manure is high in nitrogen, and urea can be extracted from pig urine; both are used in fertilizer. Metteer said that it could possibly be composted and mixed with peat for export worldwide, adding to the profitability of the operation.
Metteer said North and Johnson brought up good points. He responded by saying he has been praised for being ahead of his time in regard to environmental sensitivity. He said what effluent can't be converted to fertilizer can be processed through a waste water treatment plant.
"Plumbing hog units is no different than plumbing a city," Metteer said.
Council member Pat Porter said she did not have enough information to make an educated decision on supporting Metteer at this point.
"I don't not support you, I just need more information," she said.
Council member Linda Swarner, who said she has a background in agriculture, said she has researched hog farms through a relative with an advanced degree in swine genetics. She asked pointed questions about hog cholera and asked Metteer if he had spoken about it to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Metteer said he had not, because hogs brought into Alaska would be quarantined to ensure their health, and the state has no endemic swine diseases.
Bannock continued to press for support for the resolution, saying nobody knew anything about the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska or the PRISM facility when they were first proposed, either.
He also compared Metteer's plan to the proposed private prison issue, which had been criticized for not doing a business plan first.
"This resolution only calls for a business plan. Let's give him an 'atta-boy' and go on to the next step," Bannock said. "Let's move on and pass this resolution. Oink, oink."
Council member Jim Bookey suggested replacing the resolution with a letter from the mayor, which Metteer said was acceptable to him.
Bannock and Swarner voted against substituting the resolution with a letter, though for different reasons; Bannock wanted the full resolution to pass, Swarner was against the idea in either form. The change amendment passed 5-2.
When the vote came to support the mayor's letter, it passed 6-1, with Swarner dissenting.
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