Road issues derail plan for hog operation north of Penfield

Road issues derail plan for hog operation north of Penfield

Preliminary plans to build a hog production facility in northeast Champaign County have been thwarted, apparently because of the cost to upgrade rural roads.

Parks Livestock, which operates facilities nearby in Vermilion County, had been looking at two potential sites for a large-scale hog farm in Kerr Township, north of Penfield.

Both sites would have been near the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve, the county's largest nature preserve that sits in the middle of the township.

"We did some preliminary investigation and the road was one of the first things we worked on, and at this time, I don't think it's a possibility," said Art Halstead, operations manager with Parks Companies. "We were looking at two sites in Kerr Township. One site is a mile off the county road and the other is even farther, and when we talked to the township road commissioner, his initial thought was that the road didn't have enough base to hold up to the semi traffic.

"And for what he thought it would cost to upgrade the road, we would have to participate in it and it was way, way more money than what we could afford in the project."

Halstead said those were the only sites in Champaign County that his company was considering, "although that's not to say that tomorrow someone could call me and have interest in partnering with us."

Ryan Ackerman, the road commissioner in Kerr Township, said he met with Parks officials about three weeks ago.

"They approached us about the possibility of putting it into the township," he said.

Halstead said, however, that upgrading the road to one of the sites would cost "at least $150,000" and the other would cost "close to $200,000."

"At this time, with what the township road commissioner told me it would cost to upgrade the road, it for sure won't happen," he said. "There's just not that kind of money in this. We just can't afford that kind of extra money for this facility."

Champaign County Forest Preserve District officials were relieved to hear the hog farm would not be built.

Mary Ellen Wuellner, the newly named executive director of the district, said: "We'd be very concerned to see something like this sited near the preserve. The Middle Fork River Forest Preserve is this county's single largest protected natural area, at just over 1,700 acres, and provides visitors with a glimpse into the unique pre-settlement landscape that once covered this part of the state. It would be heartbreaking for this community to see environmental harm come to this tremendous asset."

At a meeting of the forest preserve district board Thursday night, commissioner Scott Hays pledged to lead opposition to a hog farm near the park.

"In my mind, that would be a disaster of epic proportions and it has to be stopped. There's just no compromise on this issue in my opinion, so I think the forest preserve needs to get out in front of it," he said. "This is something that can't happen."

Wuellner said that locating an animal-confinement facility near the forest preserve "could have potentially devastating effects on the preserve, as well as Sugar Creek, the Middle Fork River and its watershed. Prevailing south and west winds in the summer would push any smell that emanates from the facility directly into the path of the campground, swimming beach and the rest of the preserve — "just at a time when we are about to achieve designation as Illinois' only 'International Dark Sky Park.'"

The forest preserve district board Thursday night forwarded an application to become one of only 40 dark-sky parks in the United States.

"Dark Sky Park status would put Middle Fork preserve on the map when it comes to astro-tourism. Not only will those of us in central Illinois know that it's a great place for stargazing, the world will know it too," she said. "The potential economic impact resulting from the uptick in tourism could be significant."

The potential long-term negative impacts of a confined-livestock operation "cannot be overstated," she said.

"Other communities in close proximity to these types of agriculture facilities have experienced damaged roads due to heavy semi-truck traffic, manure spills, decreased land fertility from the spreading of an overabundance of animal waste, and fish kills from by-products entering waterways," Wuellner said.

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annabellissimo wrote on January 27, 2018 at 12:01 pm

"Parks Livestock." Does that refer to owners' name or to business practices? Slogan: Parks Livestock: Show Us Your Park and We Will Ruin It. What kind of mentality thinks it would be a good idea to put that kind of operation near a FOREST PRESERVE! Really, though, what kind of mentality thinks that kind of operation belongs anywhere at all. Small farms with a few hogs made sense for a lot of reasons. Giant industrial hog operations? Only for those who hate the magnificent natural wonders that this nation still has, albeit dwindling by the hour. Those who set up those Hog Cities should have to live smack dab in the middle of them, no exceptions.