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Stinky Debate: How Much Poop Is Too much?

Last updated on Saturday, January 26, 2013

(SALEM) - It all comes down to poop.

Marcia Walker of the Leader Democrat reports that regulations that the Washington County Plan Commission are trying to put into place about the use of land for agricultural purposes are tied to "animal units." An animal unit is determined by the amount of waste produced by an animal. That's poop in layman's terms.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has regulations in place for larger operations, confined feeding operations (CFOs) and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). But what is being considered by the local plan commission is based on lower figures, specifically for Washington County.

Kari Steele, the consultant working with a committee to come up with a draft ordinance, said she doesn't know how the state determined its figures, which she equated to "someone throwing a dart at a board years ago."

The numbers in the county's draft ordinance are based on research. As far as turkeys, the number that would require a farmer to obtain a permit from the county is 18,000.

"The goal is to regulate waste output," Tom Scifres, attorney for the plan commission, explained.

David Hoar, president of the plan commission, added, "Our numbers bring more science to the table as far as manure produced from animals."

The plan commission met for almost three hours Tuesday night, Jan. 15. It was the first time as an entire board that the commission had reviewed the draft, which is still being worked on. Commission members are not yet ready to make a recommendation to the county commissioners or schedule a public hearing.

While some of those three hours were spent reviewing the draft, commission members spent even more time fielding questions and comments as well as listening to presentations from people concerned about the influx of turkey houses in the county.

Resident Larry Lang, who said he lives in the country, questioned setback requirements in the draft, in particular that animal confinement buildings, manure storage areas and dead animal compost areas be located a minimum of 400 feet from an existing home or public facility. That is the same setback that IDEM requires for facilities where its regulations apply.

Not far enough, Lang said, suggesting 1,200 feet. He said he has family members who live 1,500 feet from chicken houses.

"Half the time, they can't sit outside," he said. "If you people won't change the law... I think you're a bunch of weasels," Lang told the commission, adding that "400 feet was put out by someone who has never lived in the country."

Jerry McKnight asked about the number of turkey and chicken houses in the county. Plan commission members pointed out that since the county has no regulations, there is no way to track that figure. Steele said there are nine permitted operations, referring to concentrated operations regulated by IDEM, and that less than 2 percent of the agricultural land in the county is used for manure placement. McKnight said he had been told the operations pay $5,000 in taxes; David Hoar said that what people pay in property taxes is determined by assessed valuation.

"I feel I have as much right to live there (the country) as anyone else," McKnight said. "They are stomping on the rights of regular people who would like to live there."

Fred Schloemer told the commissioners he was a health professional and presented them with a packet of information about the health and environmental effects of living near confined feeding operations. Included is a summary of a two-year study by Purdue University into the air polluting effects of CAFOS which determined air pollution is worse than in most cities and that residents living near them may be breathing unsafe levels of small particle pollution, ammonia and other toxic gases.

Gary Barrigar, whose neighbor is planning to construct turkey houses, questioned the county's land use plan. He pointed out that the plan doesn't address what he referred to as "urban creep," from the Greater Louisville area, a reference to people from that area moving into the county, an affluent population that Barrigar believes would make an impact economically.

Colleen Devlin, whose experience includes teaching and research, presented information pertaining to the decline in the turkey industry. She also gave members a list of recommendations, one of which is that a moratorium be declared on any new construction of CFOs in the county until the plan commission enacts ordinances regarding zoning and health issues.

Anthony McClellan told the commission that he had planned to purchase the property next to Devlin and Barrigar, the property where their neighbor is now planning to construct turkey houses.

McClellan said his plans were for row crops plus some speciality crops, including tomatoes and grapes, as well as the construction of a barn for special events. His plan was based on agri-tourism.

He noted some of the issues that could arise from confined feeding operations, suggesting the need to establish performance standards, allow a public comment period and to come up with an emergency response plan in the event issue with manure storage.

Hoar said members of the commission will try to weigh everyone's concerns. He noted the difficulty of keeping all parties happy.

"This is the first time we've seen it (the draft ordinance) as a full plan commission," Hoar said. "It's pertinent to take it under advisement."

The next meeting of the plan commission is set for Monday, Feb. 4.

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