May 14, 2009

Continuing County Health Ordinance Debate Draws Capacity Crowd to Courthouse

Commissioners Paul Campbell and Deny Clatt resided over a packed crowd in the circuit courtroom of the Scotland County courthouse on May 7th as interested parties gathered to voice concerns regarding the county’s ongoing debate regarding the recently rescinded county health ordinance that had governed concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

It was standing room only, with well over 100 livestock producers, concerned citizens and interested parties on hand to see what the county’s next step will be.

“We are here to hear peoples, concerns, thoughts and suggestions on this issue,” said Campbell to open the meeting. “We had a health ordinance, rescinded it, and now there are folks who want it reinstated, and those who do not. We want to get a feel from the people of the county on their thoughts on whether or not to have a health ordinance.”

Chipper Harris was the first to step to the microphone to address the issue that he felt had polarized the community.

“One of the commissioners stated that most people don’t give a damn about this issue, but I have some information to present that will show you that they disagree,” Harris said.

He noted that many county residents were intimidated by the emotions involved in this sometimes heated debate for and against the health ordinance. That was the motivation to begin circulation of a non-confrontational petition that simply called for the reinstatement of the county’s original court-tested health ordinance. Harris said in less than six days, with no advertising, that more than 400 people had signed the petitions.

“This is what we are trying to tell, people are interested in this issue,” Harris said.

He proposed the county get back to square one, reinstating the original ordinance. He pointed out that it had stood up for nearly four years without any major issues. He added that most people were concerned about setbacks and handling of the manure, which were governed in the original law, and less worried about the air and water quality stipulations that had been proposed in the latest revision of the ordinance that was being considered.

Harris pointed out that Linn County, the model for the ordinance, had experienced $70,000 in court costs defending the law in 1999-2000, when the ordinance was upheld.

“Since that point, they have spent zero dollars on enforcement of the ordinance,” Harris said. “So the argument that the county doesn’t have the money to does this, doesn’t hold true.”

Dr. Randall Tobler addressed the gathering regarding concerns for public health. He noted that as far back as 2004, national health organizations were asking for a moratorium on CAFOs. He pointed out that the scientific data was readily available to make the argument for the medical impacts of animal confinements.

“I’m concerned for the health of the indivduals working in these facilities, as well as those living around them,” Tobler said.

However he pointed out that the health ordinance was not attempting to eliminate CAFO’s, simply to increase setbacks for neighboring residences and controlling manure distribution to reduce runoff, which added were the best medical options.

“This is not an either, or equation, it’s a both,” Tobler said. “This is not a Trojan horse attempt to sneak in an ordinance that will open the door to eliminate CAFO’s in the future.”

The doctor encouraged the commissioners to implement a sensible, easily enforceable ordinance.

Larry Geske of Downing stated that CAFOs are already regulated by state and federal laws and that this wasn’t a county issue.

“You folks are at the wrong window to make these complaints,” he said. “This is a state and federal issue. Make those people do their jobs. You are just adding cost to the county, when this is something we are already paying to have the state and the feds do.”

Jeanne Snodgrass pointed out that the county ordinance had offered regulations for smaller CAFOs which currently are not regulated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“Without the local ordinance, it is possible to have numerous, small CAFOs to avoid the state and federal rules,” she said.

Rudy Wilson reinforced this sentiment.

“Right now you can have 2,400 hogs, 50 feet from someone’s home with no restrictions,” he said. “There is not a thing in the world they can do about it. I’ll tell you, 2,400 head stinks.”

With the support aired for the original ordinance, Gary Ahrens questioned why it was repealed.

Commissioner Campbell stated the county did not have the expertise or the equipment to enforce air and water quality issues.

“I think we felt like we had an ordinance that we couldn’t enforce, so we felt like we were better off without it,” Campbell said.

Producer Steve Robinson pointed out that it was threats of lawsuits from concerned citizens, not livestock producers that ultimately forced the commission to repeal the law.

Another producer voiced what appears to be an underlying concern for livestock producers when he stated that whatever ordinance is put into place, will eventually not be good enough, and years down the road there will be no animals in confinement.

Farmer Kenny McNamar reiterated that point, questioning where push for growing regulations ends. He added that pushing livestock producers out of the county also negatively impacts grain farmers, who produce the feed for the animals.

Another producer pointed out that his dairy heard mortality rate had dramatically declined when he transformed his operation from grazing to confined feeding. He also offered statistics regarding “organic” foods, noting that consumers are assuming they are better for them, but nutritional studies do not necessarily back up those assertions.

He pointed out that cities have rules in place to keep cows and pigs in the country where they belong. But now folks are moving out of the city into the country and they are changing their minds, grasping at whatever argument they can find to try to make the country more like the city.

Jamie Triplett agreed with the argument, stating he didn’t like to see efforts to control CAFOs coming under the heading of health.

“I hope you don’t pass an ordinance that makes me run three miles and eat one less meal a day, it probably would kill me,” he joked.

While a number of pros and cons were voiced, there seemed to be an underlying tone of attempting to find some common ground.

Tony Sirna encouraged the commission to bring producers into the mix with the concerned citizens to craft an ordinance that worked for both parties and insured CAFO owners that the law was not an effort to prevent their enterprise.

Commissioner Campbell noted that if the health ordinance was reinstated, it would not regulate the existing CAFO’s in the county and only would impact new construction.

Commissioner Clatt admitted he was continuing to wrestle with the issue.

“I have buildings as close to my home as anyone else in the county,” he said demonstrating the issue’s impact on him personally.

Ultimately no action was taken by the commission.

Campbell sated all of the input would be taken under advisement, adding that any future action on the issue would be done in public hearings with advanced public notice.

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