County news

Representatives from two state agencies met with Dickinson County Commissioners last week and said their agencies had selected an area north of Woodbine to dispose of surplus hogs, if it becomes necessary.

The state has a surplus hog problem directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. After employees at several meat processing plants tested positive with the virus, some plants were closed. 

With many packing plants stopping production or experiencing other problems, producers cannot sell their hogs, creating a surplus.

“The hog producer has no place to take them or dispose of them in large quantities,” said Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman.

Erich Glave from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Dr. Andy Hawkins, deputy animal health commissioner from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and a third unidentified man told commissioners they had selected a 160-acre site at the Hamm Quarry, located on Union Road north of Woodbine, to serve as a hog disposal and composting site.

One of the state officials contacted Commissioner Ron Roller who then notified Homman they were coming in to meet. Local commissioners and county leaders were unaware of the state’s plan until the May 21 work session. 

Composting operation

The state’s hog disposal/composting operation is not a typical “shoot them and put them in the ground to decompose” process.

The animal would be brought to the site and euthanized, then the carcass is ground up and mixed with 12-inches of wood chips. 

“Then 24 inches of cover are put on top of that,” Homman said the officials explained. “By doing it this way, it composts and within six months, it’s dirt.

“If you just bury the carcass and let it compost, it takes years and never fully decomposes,” he said. “With the carbon injected into it with wood chips, it causes a much faster decomposition. It actually produces a product that could be used or sold as compost, fertilizer or whatever when it’s done.”

There is no odor associated with the composting process, the state officials said, and gave an example of a location in Iowa. They showed commissioners a newspaper article that stated the only reason a neighbor knew something was going on was due to increased traffic.

In a worst case scenario, the Dickinson County plant might handle about a thousand hogs per day, which would be brought in along with the wood chips necessary for the composting process.

50/50 chance

Whether a plant in Dickinson County will even come to fruition is unknown, Homman said.

The department of ag doctor indicated that two weeks ago “he would have said there’s a 70 percent chance,” but at the time of the commission meeting “he thought there was a 50/50 chance,” Homman related.

“They’re trying to get all the arrangements made so if it does happen they don’t have to try and figure it out at the last minute.”

State officials said they chose Dickinson County while looking for possible locations in the northeast part of the state and another in the southwest, where they plan to partner with Oklahoma.

“(Dickinson County) was chosen because we have a large quarry that’s going to need to be reclaimed at some point anyhow,” Homman said the men told commissioners. “This might help in the reclamation process.”

County zoning

If the plant is built, county zoning regulations need to be examined. The regulations establish a time frame before conditional use permits can be issued, but during an emergency, the time requirements may be void. 

“The timeframe is going to be the issue because our zoning regulations take an application, then a 20-day period of advertisement, then a public meeting for a conditional use permit,” Homman said.

“We need to meet with our legal counsel (County Counselor Doug Thompson) and zoning director (Tim Hamilton) and determine the best way to do what we need to do,” he added.

Zoning also involves abiding by state regulations and statutes. In this case, those are already taken care of because the state is the applicant.

 “We need to do what we can do to protect the citizens of Dickinson County,” Homman said.

Road concerns

One local concern is damage to county and township roads.

 “The problem I see is having 12, 25 to 30 semis a day coming down our county roads, tearing up Union Road and 1400 Avenue hauling this stuff in,” Homman said.

Union Road is a township road, covered in gravel. Increased usage would mean additional maintenance.

“We’ll work with them (the township) to make sure they’re reimbursed for whatever damage might happen or we’ll document any damages if there’s some reimbursement from FEMA in the future because it’s a disaster,” Homman said. 

Currently, the county has an agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation that requires trucks leaving the quarry to travel to the nearest highway and travel those. In the case of the Woodbine quarry, rock trucks travel K-209, then U.S. Highway 77. 

The state officials said that agreement would apply if a hog composting plant were built.

Homman said he finds the entire hog surplus situation to be ironic. He and county Health Department Director John Hultgren and Emergency Management Director Chancy Smith all serve on the regional Homeland Security Council that has spent years planning for a pandemic.

“We’ve planned for animal diseases, doing exercises on shutting the borders of the state off, having hogs and cattle fenced in. We talked about disposal of carcasses in a disaster — tornado, fire, flood or foreign animal disease,” Homman said. “We never once envisioned we’d have to deal with perfectly good animals for this reason (COVID-19). It’s a far reaching effect of the disaster we’re dealing with.”

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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