Circle Four Farms opponents and advocates do agree on one thing: pig manure stinks.
But even in agreement lie the seeds of debate when it comes to the 250,000-hog corporate farming operation near this southern Utah town.One person's sniffer doesn't function exactly like his neighbor's, so even as some people feel their nostrils assailed almost constantly with the smell of pig feces and body odors, others rarely pick up the scent.
And despite all they have tried, the people who run Circle Four have yet to come up with a solution to the odor problem.
"A lot of the odor issue is going to depend on our ability to manage the (hog waste) lagoons effectively," said D. Steven Pollmann, Circle Four's general manager. "We were surprised at some of the odor issues in Milford. . . . It's still a very primitive science in the truest sense."
The companies that make up Circle Four originally thought odor would be less of a problem in the arid climate of Utah than it is at their operations on the East Coast.
"I don't know any other place in the world I've ever been that is as isolated for pig production," Pollmann said. "You're right smack in the middle of the desert."
But Circle Four's owners - and residents of nearby Milford and Minersville - soon found that, if the wind is coming from the right direction, odor moves across the desert farther and faster than it does in a more humid climate.
Jill Hollingshead, an 18-year Minersville resident who works in Milford, said she never has smelled the farms from her home, but she occasionally catches a whiff of pig as she drives to work.
Milford Mayor Mary Wiseman, a 45-year resident, moved to southern Utah from Montana. She said she has family members who live on a farm outside of town, and they sometimes smell the hogs. The odor usually is worst early in the morning and does not last long.
"When I first moved here, I thought (dairy farms in) Minersville smelled terrible," Wiseman said. "I've smelled a lot worse than pigs, and that's silage and rotten potatoes."
She said she and several other local officials traveled to North Carolina to visit similar hog operations before Circle Four moved in, and the smell is much worse there. She said Circle Four's farms are spread out, and most are at least three miles from the nearest residence.
"They're clean, and they're nice," Wiseman said.
But Alice Smith, who owned the weekly Beaver County Monitor for about five years before closing it in May, said the smell coming from the farms has grown more offensive as the number of pigs has increased.
Don Ostler, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said he thinks odor is one of the biggest problems facing Circle Four.
No state agency has the authority to regulate odor, Ostler said, so the issue is left to local nuisance ordinances. Other states are considering setback requirements for large farms, he said, but Circle Four already exceeds most of those proposals.
Beaver County Commissioner Richard Rollins said he could smell the farms on two days of each of two recent summer weeks.
He said he thinks the odor problem has decreased as the lagoons that hold the hog waste have aged and started working better. And Circle Four is testing some new technology that could cut the odor even more.
Andy Baumert, environmental services director for the National Pork Producers Council in Des Moines, Iowa, said Circle Four is participating in its $1.5 million On-Farm Odor Management Assistance Program and $3.5 million Odor Solutions Initiative.
Under the first program, teams of trained site inspectors will visit a hog farm at a producer's request and make a thorough risk assessment of the operation, covering both odor and water quality.
The Odor Solutions Initiative is designed to gather reliable data by asking producers to test some of the hundreds of odor reduction products and technologies currently on the market.
"We recognize that there are issues that need to be tackled, and we're doing that aggressively," Baumert said.