October 2, 2008

Commissioners Defend Decision to Repeal County CAFO Limits

Citing the need for regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to be a statewide issue, the Scotland County Commission stood behind its decision to repeal the county health ordinance that had regulated local facilities.

“This needs to be a state issue,” said presiding commissioner Mike Stephenson during the group’s September 25th meeting. “Regulation of CAFOs should be enforced by DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and funded by the state.”

He pointed out that the various county-level laws created too many variables from region to region to the point that no one knew what rules were in place to regulate the feeding facilities.

The presiding commissioner indicated he was not trying to argue the merit of the added restrictions the county ordinance had provided, simply the fact that those stipulations should be put into place at the state level.

“This is something the residents of Scotland County need to address with their state legislators if they feel strongly about the regulations.” He said. “But they are up against a big lobby, with lots of money so it will be a hard fight.”

Commissioner Win Hill indicated the need to repeal the ordinance was a financial decision.

“The county doesn’t have the money to hire someone to enforce the ordinance,” he said. “We don’t have the expertise ourselves.”

The financial concerns also centered around the threat of litigation against the county regarding the ordinance.

“It was getting to the point that no matter what we did to enforce the rules, it was never enough,” said Commissioner Paul Campbell. “The demands just continued to grow as citizens questioned our enforcement methods and our expertise to monitor the air and water quality.”

The commissioners noted they have already heard from unhappy constituents with the threat of lawsuits to force the county to resend the repeal motion and reinstate the ordinance.

Stephenson indicated the prospect of repealing the ordinance had been under consideration for months.

“It boiled down to the fact that the county gave its citizens more protection than was being provided by DNR, and still it wasn’t enough,” Stephenson said. He added that the complaints regarding inadequate enforcement combined with threats of lawsuits helped fuel the decision to repeal.

The presiding commissioner indicated the underlying threat of litigation was not coming from CAFO owners and operators, but instead was from adjacent property owners who were not satisfied with how the county was enforcing the law.

“To do what the public was demanding, we were going to have to hire someone,” Campbell said. “We were going to have to hire someone with the expertise to do the water and air quality testing. That and the equipment for those tests was going to take money that the county just doesn’t have.”

Stephenson added that even if the county made those investments it was no guarantee it would be enough or would eliminate the threat of litigation.

“In hindsight it is easy for me to say that I feel like we made a mistake in 2004 when the ordinance was enacted,” Stephenson said. “I’ll be the first one to admit that. But that is a mistake that we have now corrected.”

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