In the final hours of the 2002 Legislature, state lawmakers agreed to new regulations for livestock confinements that many rural Iowans have sought for years.

But Taylor County Supervisor Lee Little remains unimpressed. "It definitely doesn't go far enough," says Little. Taylor County is one of a half-dozen Iowa counties that passed resolutions in recent months calling for stiffer regulations or moratoriums on corporate pork and poultry confinements. Little and others contend these grassroots uprisings will grow - not diminish - because of the new law.

County officials are disappointed they still do not have the power to stop construction of a confinement, regardless of whether it's near the Danish Windmill in Elk Horn or the Iowa River watershed in Franklin County. Opponents also want rules to take effect immediately, not next year or in 2007.

"We've got a problem now," says Little, a beekeeper who lives near Bedford. "The Legislature understands we have a problem now. What can they accomplish by waiting?"

On Friday, the same day the Legislature gave final approval to a livestock bill described as both historic and sweeping, the Cerro Gordo County Board of Health went further. The board approved a detailed ordinance to stop any new construction or expansion of livestock confinements in that northern Iowa county for a year.

The ordinance is even more crucial now, county Public Health Director Ron Osterholm says, because of the new timetable the bill establishes. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has the final say on whether a confinement is approved. But the criteria will not be in place until March. New air-quality standards will not be enforced until 2004, and a phosphorus index won't go into effect until after 2007.

Some livestock producers could try to speed up construction before the law takes effect. "You may have," says Osterholm, "one of the massive build-ups ever."

Gov. Tom Vilsack says he will sign the bill, Senate File 2293. The governor said Friday that by working with the Legislature, state leaders produced legislation balancing the need for clean water, clean air and quality of life with the needs of a critical state industry.

Those who have fought to stop the spread of large confinements disagree. They argue that new fees, more monitoring and distance regulations will do little to stop air and water pollution.

"This legislation is not going to lessen the need or the movement to get moratoriums set up concerning factory farms across the state," said Hugh Espey, rural project director for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a statewide activist group behind many protests against large livestock operators.

He listed Adair, Cerro Gordo, Clarke, Floyd, Madison and Taylor counties as those trying to regulate large livestock operations. Butler and Franklin counties are among those considering adopting similar rules. "There's probably anywhere from 10 to 12 others actively considering it," says Espey.

It remains to be seen whether those county efforts to regulate large livestock confinements will survive a court challenge. Last month, a pork producer asked a judge to declare Franklin County's one-year ban on new livestock buildings unconstitutional. Franklin County officials rescinded their ordinance before a judge could hear arguments.

In 1998, the Iowa Supreme Court voided Humboldt County ordinances because they attempted to regulate livestock farms in violation of state law.

Little, the Taylor County supervisor and beekeeper, lives within three miles of nine hog confinements in southwest Iowa. He worries that the heavy concentration could make his honey reek of manure and could taint groundwater and pollute the lake in the county's only state park, Lake of Three Fires.

Early drafts of the livestock legislation had protections for both sides, he says. The bill that passed offered few solutions - and those were delayed.

"All they're trying to do is get re-elected," Little says of legislators. "I sure hope the people of Iowa see through this sham."

Des Moines Register