By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
part 2 of 2
Rol Hudler looks like an English professor and smells of pipe smoke. A thin, balding man with round glasses, he is the third-generation Hudler to be editor and publisher of the Burlington Record; his son, who has begun working for the paper, will be the fourth. Hudler also is Burlington's mayor, a title he has held since he was 28 years old--27 years ago.
At the very least, the arrangement can get people talking. "Rol still writes all the city council news," says Mark Hillman, who worked at the paper for eight years before quitting last year. Hudler says he has others cover local government, although his best reporter is his wife, Joy.
All of which makes it easy to understand why the chronology of how Midwest's plans came to be public has opponents of the project whispering of conspiracies and collusion.
Hudler says Midwest first approached city council in October. At the meeting, he says, the company indicated its general interest in the area and gave a brief sketch of its plans. Despite what would seem to be the obvious public interest in such a presentation, there was no mention of it in the Record.
Concerned and interested over the prospect of a huge new employer just outside of town, the council arranged for a fact-finding delegation to visit Midwest's hog facility in Hennessey, Oklahoma.
Because Burlington has difficulty attracting physicians, doctors from Denver fly in to see patients once a week. So the city arranged to use the medical plane between the time it dropped off the physicians in the morning and the time it picked them up again that evening.
The nine-member delegation flew down to Oklahoma, viewed Midwest's facilities in what Hudler admits was a hasty visit, and returned. Hudler (who did not go on the trip) reports that the delegation was mostly impressed by the hog plant, although he adds that those who were against it before they left didn't seem to change their minds. Again, though, nothing about Midwest or the city-financed trip appeared in the newspaper.
In fact, the first time the Record ran an article on the proposed hog facility was November 17, nearly a month after the company's first contact with the council. (Locals appeared to have already been tipped off: In the same edition, a letter to the editor warned of the smell and water degradation that could result from hog farms.)
According to the article, Midwest was looking to build a 5,000-sow facility somewhere in the Burlington area. (Its plans have since quadrupled. And with each sow capable of producing up to 20 pigs, Midwest could produce up to 400,000 pigs yearly in Kit Carson County, according to Don Nitchie, director for the Golden Plains Area Cooperative Extension, in Akron.)
Hudler, who unabashedly supports Midwest's move into Kit Carson, says it was an appropriate editorial decision not to publish the news that Midwest was nosing around the area until it actually began purchasing options on land. He notes that his paper did not reveal plans for the proposed trash-incineration plant until that company had secured a site, either.
Since the first article, the paper has diligently covered the company's moves. In December Hudler sent his wife to Hennessey to investigate Midwest's operation there. She wrote a two-part series that covered both sides of the issue thoroughly. Says Hudler, "There was no conspiracy to cover anything up."
A rough poll would probably show that most people who support Midwest live in Burlington, while the opposition appears to be strongest outside the city. Response by the area's elected officials parallels this split. So it is not surprising that, if members of the Burlington City Council's involvement in the pork plan has at times seemed overinvolved, Kit Carson County's elected officials have taken the opposite approach.
The county commissioners have no legal say as to whether Midwest moves into the area. Nevertheless, as a show of good faith, the company approached lawmakers late last year and requested a meeting to explain its proposal. They were turned down.
Commissioner Rick Dykstra says the lawmakers just didn't have time to fit Midwest in. "They never got on our agenda," he remembers. Dykstra adds that neither side bothered arranging another meeting time.
The commissioners did, however, manage to meet with Midwest's opponents. Recently, they sent a letter opposing the company's project to the state water engineer. "The only thing we were doing was trying to protect our natural resources," says LeRoy Herndon, another commissioner. Herndon adds that, in general, he has no problem with hog farms moving into the area.
When members of Congress and nostalgic policy analysts refer to America's small independent farmer, they are talking about cattleman Jim Dobler. He is a booming man, full-faced, with woolly sideburns. He is 42 years old, but the hair that creeps out of the top of his overalls and his flannel shirt is gray. He wears a seed cap and chews a toothpick, and he seems like he couldn't be anywhere else.
The Dobler farm sits on a bend at the end of unpaved County Road 43, a half-dozen miles northwest of Burlington. The 1,500 acres has been in the family ever since Jim's newlywed parents, Delores and Elmer, who'd grown up about ten miles to the north, bought it in 1948. In 1982 Jim's brother, Raymond, moved out to raise dairy cows on his own farm two miles to the east. Jim, who has never married, stayed put. "Jim has never left us," Delores says, "and we're not sorry."