A new survey conducted by Circle Four Farms, the giant hog operation outside Milford, shows that local residents say the farm is a good neighbor (85 percent) and that the farm should be allowed to expand (62 percent).
The survey also indicates that most local residents say that Circle Four has made "a reasonable effort" to control odor and that Beaver County officials should not create an ordinance that would make agricultural odors a crime.
"I knew we had support, but I didn't realize it was this much," said Brian Mauldwin, spokesman for Circle Four. "When we go to public meetings, oftentimes the people who attend are those who are opposed, and they're very vocal. The things that surprised me the most is that we have the majority of community support, but they don't know it. They don't know they're in the majority.
"It is pretty powerful to realize that we have resounding support," Mauldwin said. "Most elected officials would die for an 85 percent approval rating."
Circle Four Farms employs 400 people locally.
However, officials at the Sierra Club still are skeptical of the giant operation that raises 650,000 market hogs per year.
Trevor Miller, past project specialist for the Utah State Sierra Club, said the national track record for "concentrated animal feeding operations" (CAFOs) has been "far from perfect," with cases of water, air and soil pollution cropping up throughout the country.
The Sierra Club wants to avoid this in Utah, so "to this end, we have called for increased preventative efforts and regulations regarding CAFOs and other sources of non point source pollution. Such a call can only be seen as a protection for the natural environment and for the people of Beaver County," Miller said.
As far as this survey goes, Miller said the Sierra Club's stance has changed very little from past surveys.
"First, until Circle Four hires an outside agency to fully conduct all aspects of the survey poll (from question development, telephone communication and statistical review), it is little more than a case of the fox guarding the chicken coop," Miller said.
"Secondly, there is an understanding that Circle Four has made efforts to reduce odor and other problems, which is commendable. However, Utah's governing bodies and citizens must support action that will insure the safety of our air, water and land. CAFOs, regardless of reported community support, must be regulated like any other industry. Until these regulations are passed and enforced, the Utah Sierra Club will maintain its call for further restriction on Circle Four," Miller said.
This is the third survey Circle Four has undertaken. This time, Mauldwin said the company called upon Les Jones, a professor at Southern Utah University, for advice on the survey's methodology. His recommendations changed the way the phone numbers were chosen to ensure randomness.
There also was another change before the survey was conducted: Circle Four
this time submitted the survey questions for review to the Beaver County Commission, Beaver County Planning and Zoning, Beaver County School District and the Milford City Council to get input from these groups.
Mauldwin said these types of outside feedback also influenced the phrasing of questions.
The random phone polling was done in April and produced 287 completed surveys.
Mauldwin said the survey was not related to an earlier discussion by the Beaver County Commission to possibly make agricultural odors a crime, nor this week's decision by the Iron County Commission to declare a six-month "time out" on any new contract farms.
Contract farms are relatively small barns and properties owned by farmers who provide the labor in raising pigs, while Circle Four provides the animals, their feed, medication and technical help.
Iron County is south of Circle Four Farms, which is located in Beaver County.
Previously this year, Beaver County officials had prepared a draft ordinance that would make creation of odors a class B misdemeanor, but then did an inventory to see how many smaller farmers might be affected, Mauldwin said. "If there was to be an ordinance, what they realized is that it would put about half the people in the county out of business since we're primarily an agricultural county," he said.
The issue of making farm odors a class B misdemeanor has "pretty much passed by the wayside," he said.