MALVERN - Concerns about fertile farm soil being sold and removed from private property northwest of Malvern has the Mills County Board of Supervisors reviewing land use policies and considering changes to ordinances that could result in tighter restrictions being placed on the sale and removal of farm ground in the future.
Mills County Engineer Kevin Mayberry and county supervisor Richard Crouch said they’ve fielded numerous calls and complaints in recent weeks from Mills County citizens who have expressed concerns about the volume of dirt being trucked away from a field along the Silver Creek bottom near the intersection of U.S. Highway 34 and Jabber Road.
“It’s tough to go to Malvern,” Crouch said at last Tuesday’s county board meeting. “People over there are upset about it.”
The soil is being removed from property owned by Cory Leick, the owner of a local construction and landscaping firm. Leick said the soil is being hauled to multiple farms in western Mills County to replace dirt the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad took away last summer while building berms to elevate its tracks during the Missouri River flooding. A steady stream of trucks have been hauling dirt from the property near Silver Creek on a regular basis for several weeks, catching the attention of neighbors and Highway 34 motorists.
Mayberry said the sale and removal of the soil is allowed under current county ordinances and Leick did submit the required grading plan to his office for approval before the project commenced.
“Even though some people may not like it, it is a properly-graded plan,” Mayberry said. “They did everything proper, but you always learn something when zoning is implemented and this is probably an issue that needs to be looked at.”
Most of the complaints about the project, Mayberry and Crouch said, have come from members of the agricultural community who are unhappy to see the fertile soil being stripped away.
“People wonder how you can destroy prime, highly-productive farmland for a dirt borrow site,” Mayberry said. “They say, ‘Why do you allow it?’”
Directors of the Mills County Soil and Water Conservation District (MCSWCD) are also getting calls about the soil removal and are expected to discuss the issue at a future meeting. MCSWCD chair Paul Hathaway said he cannot speak for the entire board, but believes most members would support the county supervisors if they decide to tighten land use ordinances.
“We’re most supportive of any attempt to prevent that fertile soil to be used for fill,” Hathaway said.
Leick said he does some farming of his own and is sensitive to the agricultural community’s concerns about the activity on his land, but disputes the claim that the soil is being “destroyed” or being used for “fill.” Leick said the soil being hauled away from his property is replacing farm ground that was taken away for the railroad berms. About 4-5 feet of soil is being taken from 20-25 acres of Leick’s property to remediate 62 acres of farmland near the railroad track berm.
“I do farm, myself, and I respect everyone’s opinion on this, but we’re helping out all the farmers over there (near the railroad berm),” Leick said. “You don’t like to see good farm ground destroyed and it’s not being destroyed. It’s being removed to replace the soil that was taken away for the railroad last summer.”
Leick added that he fully intends to farm his property near Silver Creek, all 80 acres of it, later this year. He expects the dirt removal project to be completed by spring.
“My goal is to be farming that ground in 2012,” he said.
Crouch and fellow county supervisors Joe Blankenship and Ron Kohn are in agreement that further study is needed of current land use and zoning ordinances before any changes are considered or implemented. Kohn noted that “ag provisions” included in current ordinances prevent the county from putting certain restrictions on agricultural land and farm structures.
Blankenship said he’s not in favor of using farmland for borrow pit sites, but also understands the importance of protecting the rights of private property owners.
“Originally, when we discussed borrow pits, I didn’t want to see any borrow pits on farm ground, but the landowners have rights,” Blankenship said.
Mayberry told county board members in addition to concerns about the loss of agricultural soil, public safety is also an issue with the site along Silver Creek. Mayberry said the truck traffic at the site caused significant damage to Jabber Road during a thaw late last fall. County crews were called in to repair the road at Leick’s expense.
“We had a quarter-mile of mud road,” Mayberry said. “We came in the first time and graded it, but we’re not going to keep fixing the road.”
Leick said he had no problem with being submitted a bill for the road repairs and has taken steps to prevent future damage to Jabber Road. He added about 40 - 45 trucks are being utilized to haul the dirt, providing employment for local citizens and customers for local businesses.
“It is a spark to the local economy,” Leick said.
Mayberry noted Leick’s land near Silver Creek isn’t the first piece of farmland to be utilized as a borrow pit site in Mills County, but the visibility of the project from Highway 34 has helped fuel discussion and bring the issue to the attention of county officials.