September 1, 2005

Neighbors of Proposed Hog Farm Voice Concerns at Public Hearing

Roughly 50 neighboring landowners filled the Scotland County Courtroom Friday morning for a public hearing regarding a proposed concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) to be built south of Memphis.

Jay Sinsenig of Pennsylvania has filed a permit request with the county to construct a 50’x 200’ wean to finish hog facility to house up to 1,200 hogs. The facility is proposed for a 139 acres site located off of Route M approximately three miles south of Memphis.

Adjoining landowners and neighbors of the proposed site gathered for the hearing and the majority that spoke on the issue did not seem to be in favor of the project being located near their property. Odor, health concerns, and the prospect of declining land value were several of the complaints aired.

One member of the public did point out the construction as well as the livestock would provide economic growth for the community and also would raise the local tax base.

Opponents of the CAFO, appeared to initially blame the county for allowing the project to move forward, but quickly learned that their options were limited.

The commission passed an ordinance in October of 2004 that placed additional restrictions on any CAFO built in the county. Under existing Department of Natural Resource regulations Sinsenig’s proposed project is small enough it doesn’t even require a permit or DNR inspection.

The new ordinance joined Scotland County with 10 other counties that have taken steps to offer increased regulation of large animal facilities that can effect neighboring landowners.

The county law enforces larger setbacks for CAFOs from adjoining residences as well as for the disposal of animal manure.

Commissioner Paul Campbell stated the proposed CAFO does meet the setback requirements from the closest residence and also had the required one acre for every 4 animal units on the site for disposal of the waste. He stated the plan called for the manure to be knifed into the soil and that the barn would sit on top of an eight-foot deep waste pit that would be agitated and treated with chemicals to reduce the ammonia and break down the solid materials prior to disposal.

“According to the ordinance we have in place, he [Sinsenig] does meet all the setback requirements, has his plans in place and follows the number restrictions,” Campbell said. “Based on all of this, unless there is something we have missed, or are not aware of, we are in the position we will have to issue the permit to build and operate the facility.”

Campbell also pointed out, that without the recently passed ordinance, the public would not even have had the opportunity for a public hearing as state regulations do not cover this small of an operation.

A number of questions were posed to the commission regarding the disposal of the manure and waste generated by the CAFO.

Campbell assured the neighbors that the plan called for the manure to be injected into the soil and not spread on top of the ground.

Other questions posed by the public focused on health issues and punishment for violations or the permit regulations.

Jamie Triplett of Triplett Farms questioned the process of enforcing the regulations and what penalties a facility faced for violating the rules.

Campbell stated a CAFO must be in compliance with all regulations or face not having its permit renewed annually. The DNR rules also stipulate habitual violations can result in fines or even imprisonment.

John Erickson asked the commission who is responsible for insuring the CAFO is in compliance with the regulations.

“The commission is not going to babysit at the site,” Campbell said. “We will take the necessary steps to make sure the application is correct and the plans are followed but we can’t be there every second of every day. I’m sure the neighbors will do a fine job of policing it and will be in to tell the commission of any suspected violations.”

Tom Deberry of the NRCSD office also pointed out that mandated soil tests will help police the situation, insuring that only appropriate amounts of manure are disposed of at the site.

Tony Sirna of Dancing Rabbit asked about water and air quality and the effects the hog facility will have on the neighbors’ quality of life.

“They may follow this plan perfectly, but it still can degrade the air and the ground water in the area,” he said.

Campbell pointed out that the county did not have the equipment to perform air testing but stated the EPA could provide testing or a private firm could be hired. He added that local stream teams do water quality testing and told Sirna he would request the area be observed. The commissioners indicated that testing could be paid for out of the $1,000 annual licensing fee paid by the CAFO owner to the county for administrative fees.

Sirna requested that water and air tests be performed prior to the introduction of the hogs to provide a sample to compare future tests against.

Other public concerns centered on transporting the manure and waste to be spread on other properties. Spillage or runoff from the vehicles was a concern, as the waste could contaminate adjoining groundwater as well as simply causing odor issues on the county roads.

The regulations pointed out that manure from a CAFO must be disposed of on the site or on CAFO ground contiguous to the site.

Triplett questioned whether the site under consideration at the hearing would meet the requirements. He pointed out that the ordinance prohibited spreading manure on ground with a slope greater than 10-percent. Based on personal knowledge of the ground in question, Triplett asked if the county was sure the site had the necessary 120 acres required for the proposed 480 animal units. He noted that by his estimation there were more than 19 acres on the 139-acre farm that had slope greater than 10-percent.

Deberry stated the permit was utilizing data from NRCS surveys which generally used averages to determine slope for larger areas.

Triplett noted that the area of testing was not specifically defined in the ordinance, which might create a legal challenge to the permit.

Other possible obstacles to the permit were discussed before the commission agreed to plan another hearing and to ask the property owner to be in attendance.

“Before 1998 and 99 when prices dropped to eight and nine cents, there were a lot of hogs in the county,” Campbell stated. “Things have changed in the business and there just aren’t too many little guys out there with hogs. We enacted this ordinance to try to keep these newer, big corporate operations out of the community. Compared to these corporate guys, this site is just a little operation. But regardless of what we do here, we’re going to have people upset with us.”

Presiding Commissioner Mike Stephenson added that the real power to regulate CAFO’s resides at the state level.

“We’re not the ones who can change this,” Stephenson said. “The state legislature is in control.”

He pointed out recent legislation sponsored by Senator John Cauthorn would have eliminated the opportunity for counties to pass additional regulations for CAFO’s. Stephenson stated the issue failed but likely would return in the current session for reconsideration.

Triplett encouraged those attending the meeting to contact their representative and senator to voice their opinion on the matter.

He also pointed out that numerous communities were watching how Scotland County dealt with the situation.

“This is an issue that has not avoided us,” Triplett said. “There are a lot of eyes on us to see how we handle this situation. There are big corporations that want to place units in our area. It is in our best interest to get really good at this process.”

Based on the number of questions and concerns the commission closed the meeting after announcing a second hearing will be held September 13 at 9:00 a.m. in the circuit courtroom.

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