Further Discussion on the Comp Plan

The Board of Supervisors has received several emailed copies of a list of opinions about the current draft of the Comprehensive Plan.  I truly appreciate the citizens of Johnson County speaking up and making sure their voices are heard on such an important piece of policy as this.  I take pride in listening to all sides of all issues.  It is worth reiterating, though, that listening is not always the same thing as agreeing.  It is clear that there are differences, areas where I will not agree with some people nor they with me – that is unavoidable. But I hope that I have at least made my thinking on these subjects clear.

Below I have attempted to answer each of the points, which are copied directly and unedited from the email the Board members received. My comments are indented, and preceded by  ”kmf>.”  It must be emphasized that I do not speak for the Board of Supervisors – no one Supervisor can do that.  These opinions are my own, and the facts are well researched and in some cases hyperlinked to further information or sources.

As of this writing, the current draft of the plan (remember, nothing has been voted on), is dated 28 Nov 2017, and that is the draft referred to throughout this post.  It can be referenced in pdf format here.                                       ~kmf


15 Dec 2017

Dear Johnson County Board of Supervisors,

As stated in the profile of Johnson County (page 22), the county population was about 144,000 in 2015 and is predicted to be between 200,000 and 220,000 by 2040. It is important to support all types of agriculture in order to clothe, transport, and feed all of these people. Agriculture proper may involve the fewest jobs, but agriculture plays a critical role in the entire life of a given economy. Agriculture is the backbone of the economic system. In addition to providing food and raw material, agriculture also provides employment opportunities to a very large percentage of the population that produces equipment, food for animals, repairs to equipment, building materials, fuel, technology support, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. There are fewer chickens and hogs produced in the County and the production of cattle is steady. We should be concerned about these numbers considering the population growth.

kmf> We can agree that agriculture is critical to the economy.  The Comprehensive Plan is not the attack on agriculture that some seem to think. Large-scale row-cropping of corn and soy, and confined animal feeding operations are strong in Iowa and in Johnson County, and are not in need of the same kinds of support that re-emerging, traditional agriculture is. Small and very small farms, which grow food intended to be consumed here at home, have impediments that the larger players do not have.  The Comprehensive Plan is intended, in part, to remove some of those impediments.  Helping that one sector ought not be perceived as attacking another sector.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of animals raised in confinement are sold on the commodity market and are more likely to be consumed almost anywhere else in the world than in Johnson County.  While it is true that some of these animals may be brought to a local locker and processed for a neighbor, which is great, let us not pretend that the CAFOs of our foodshed are feeding the people in our foodshed.  Certainly not in the same direct way as, to site just one example, Pavelka’s Point does.

Local Economy – Strategy 2 – Action 4 – Instead of “Support the local food industry in Johnson County.” It should state “Support all farmers in Johnson County.” All farmers are producing healthy and affordable food and protect environmental quality and human health, and contribute to the vitality of rural and urban communities.

kmf> Stating that the county intends to support the local food industry does not preclude other sectors.  Stating that we intend to help person “A” does not mean we intend to harm person “B.”

And I must take issue with your use of “All farmers” producing healthful and affordable food, and that “all farmers” protect environmental quality and human health.  Do most of them? Sure, of course.  But one need only look at cases such as that of Jack DeCoster, or search for examples of poor conditions in CAFOs on YouTube to see that “all” is a stretch, at best.  I would hope that those who are in the majority, who are implementing the “Best Practices,” would be leading the fight to stop those who are not.

Just to be clear, the detrimental factors I see here are not the farmers. The problems are with many practices that are often dangerous to our water supply, cruel to livestock, hazardous to farm workers, and/or produce lower-quality food.  Anything I can do to encourage practices that do the opposite of these things, I intend to do.  Anyone who is already doing these best practices: Wonderful! Thank you!

Please define local food production. Modern traditional larger farmers in the County also produce food locally and sell it locally, it is not only the small farmers that do this.

kmf> Yes, some do, and that is to be highly encouraged and commended.  But it is a tiny proportion of the animals raised in confinement (as referred to above). And those who raise only row crops (and not livestock) produce, effectively, no food for local people.

Local food production refers to food (not feed or fuel) grown/produced, processed, cooked and consumed within roughly 100 miles of its origin. (That 100-mile thing is somewhat variable – the USDA says 450 miles, which is laughable).  In its best form, local food is “Good, clean, and fair.” By “good” I mean it is good tasting and good for the people and the land. By “clean” I mean that there is nothing in the food that isn’t food (and if it was not food 100 years ago, it is not food now). And by “fair” I mean that the people responsible for producing the food are justly compensated for their labor.

Nonpoint Source Pollution on page 32 needs to be rewritten:

·       Sediment (remove “and pathogens (animal waste) from agriculture”)

·       Fertilizer (add “City waste treatment facility (human waste), golf courses, parks, etc.)

·       Oil, grease, (leave as is)

·       Atmospheric deposition, stream channelization, and habitat alteration. (leave as is)

kmf> Pathogens and animal waste from agriculture are indisputable sources of pollution. The data are crystal clear.  They are also clear that city waste treatment facilities, golf courses, parks, etc., are a negligible part of the problem, relatively speaking.  The items in the list on page 32 of the Comp Plan come directly from the EPA’s definitions.

Also from the EPA: “The National Water Quality Assessment shows that agricultural nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and streams, the third largest source for lakes, the second largest source of impairments to wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water.”

Page 34 – Why only monitor efficiency of fleet vehicles. Why not support ethanol. As a renewable fuel, ethanol is doing more for the environment. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 59% relative to gasoline. You can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions even more by driving a flex fuel car and running it on higher blends of ethanol –enhanced gasoline. I know you have some electric vehicles, but today there are not enough places to charge these, and they are cost-prohibitive to buy for most people.

kmf> Ethanol is, was, and always will be a boondoggle, and is essentially the preposterous notion that we should raise food in order to set it on fire.  It requires more oil to produce than it saves in its usage, and therefore does not cut down on greenhouse gasses.  We must, as a species, work our way out of a carbon-based energy system – away from burning things to make energy.

This Comprehensive Plan is intended for the next decade.  Electric cars and more sustainable forms of energy are coming, and fast.  Today a brand new all-electric vehicle can be had for a very competitive $30k, and used ones for much less.  Industry leader Tesla is already testing an all-electric tractor-trailer.  Solar and wind energy are now the cheapest forms of electricity.

Where you and I may share a concern is here: What will become of Iowa’s economy when ethanol is no longer used? When carbon-burning cars are the minority?  Ethanol needs subsidies now, so imagine when the demand collapses.  Additionally, how will Iowa pay for its roads when relatively few people are buying gasoline or ethanol, thus not paying gas taxes?

As I said, we are trying to plan a decade out.  Consider: 10 years ago there was no Facebook or Twitter. The social networks were nearly non-existent. Look at how much they have changed communication in that time, and imagine how transportation could (I’d even say “should”) be changed in the next 10 years.

It would be nice to see something added to the plan regarding more porous sidewalks and parking lots to help manage storm water runoff.

kmf> You and I agree here, although the county has very few sidewalks. We do have bike trails, though the runoff on these is negligible and handled well.  And you may not be aware, the comparatively-new parking lot at the County Admin building – the gated one for the staff – is a permeable pavement – though it is a fairly early form of it, and the other lot was built before permeable paving was a feasible solution.

Wherever feasible, the county definitely should look to these options, and I believe this is addressed sufficiently by Sustainability Goal 6, Strategy 1, Action Item 4, on page 45 of the Comp Plan: “Adopt sustainable infrastructure practices on county road and parking projects.”

Several strategies have no action steps – why have the strategies?

·       Sustainability 4 – Strategy 1 –

·       Sustainability 5 – Strategy 4 –

·       Local Economy 3 – Strategy 1 –

·       Infrastructure & Amenities 5 – Strategy 4 –

·       Land Use 4 – Strategy 3 –

·       Land Use 4 – Strategy 4 –

kmf> I believe the strategies are important, even if the action steps are, “keep doing what we’re doing,” or are yet to be developed.

Future Land Use Categories – Don’t like new industrial definition – old one was much more comprehensive.

kmf> Not clear how you mean, but it is important to clarify that “Land Use Categories” are not “Zoning Categories.”

Page 74 – Please state where these numbers came from and be more specific as to what you are talking about – type of animal and number of animals, etc.

kmf> Also not clear what you mean here.  The only number I see on page 74 of the Comp Plan states that there are 56 permitted feeding operations and 46 “active,” as well as an unknown number of smaller operations, and these numbers are cited as being from the DNR. Perhaps there’s a discrepancy in page numbers? The draft I am looking at is dated 28 Nov 2017.

Land Use Strategy 4 and Action steps 1, 2, 3 should be removed from the plan. Regulation is at the state level as it should be where the expertise is and for consistency between Counties. Anyone can report a problem and it is not up to the County to “monitor” Animal Feeding Operations.

kmf> I intend to continue lobbying the state for fixes to the master matrix and for more local control over siting and other regulations.  To any extent allowable by law, it is my goal to have the county “monitor and report adverse effects of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Johnson County,” as the Plan currently states, including those large feeding operations not technically defined as “CAFOs.”  I do not know why you would not want the County to “Encourage and promote best practices for CAFOs,” as stated in Land Use Strategy 4, Action 2.  It is a fine thing that farmers implement best practices, but the primary duty of the Board of Supervisors is the health and safety of the people of the County, and therefore seeing to it that no one is polluting the land and water is vital.  Our motto here ought to be, in the words of President Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”

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