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Circle Four Farms series: Did politics grease the path to pig farms?

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Warren Peterson helped Beaver County officials bring Circle Four Farms and its thousands of hogs to southern Utah.

Peterson, now attorney and lobbyist for Circle Four, said he still believes the farms helped save a dying area.

And although he knows some people oppose the farms, he is tired of hearing allegations that Circle Four worked its way into Utah by buying off state and local officials.

"From the beginning, it has been a Utah-initiated project," Peterson said. "We went to them and asked them to put up some money to create some jobs in Utah. . . . It is Utah people who have run this company from the day it started."

That's not how A. True Ott sees it. The Cedar City resident and spokesman for the anti-Circle Four group Citizens for Responsible and Sustainable Agriculture said he has run into constant roadblocks from state and local politicians.

He said the four companies that originally made up Circle Four - Smithfield Foods Inc. of Virginia and Carroll's Foods, Prestage Farms and Murphy Family Farms of North Carolina - were buying influence as far back as 1994, when they backed passage of the state's agricultural protection act.

The act is designed to protect farmland from suburban sprawl and farming operations from public nuisance complaints.

Peterson said Circle Four did propose the legislation and will benefit from it. But he said that is not why he pushed for its adoption.

"When I saw it, I saw it as a real opportunity to help agriculture throughout Utah . . .," he said. "It's nonsense to say that it benefits only Circle Four. It's being used in counties from one end of the state to the other."

Peterson of Delta, Robert Adams of Milford and Desmond Barker of Salt Lake City are the three Circle Four lobbyists registered with the state, and state records do not show any large contributions flowing from them or the company to legislators.

Peterson said Circle Four probably has made fewer than a half-dozen contributions to elected officials.

"The largest one is $150, and I don't know a Utah politician who can be bought for $150," he said. "It's utter nonsense that we have bought off politicians or anyone else."

But Jill Hollingshead, an 18-year Minersville resident and manager of Milford Drug, said many people still believe political power has played an important role in Circle Four's success.

"It amazes me how they get where they're going and get what they want," she said.

D. Steven Pollmann, Circle Four's general manager, said he is frustrated by that perception.

"Not one penny has gone into a politician's . . . pocket to buy them off," he said. "Our intents will always be straightforward and honest."

Beaver County commissioners Chad Johnson, who runs a furniture store in Beaver, and Richard Rollins, who operates a trucking and construction company, also routinely face allegations of inappropriate contact with Circle Four.

Both men said they do business with the company, but that does not create a conflict of interest. As part-time commissioners, they said, they have to make a living, and Circle Four is a major player in the county's economy.