Commission seeks confined feeding comments

The Bartholomew County Plan Commission will consider new setback requirements for confined feeding operations in February, but any vote on the proposed changes probably won’t happen until March.

Plan Commission Chairman Zack Ellison said it’s important to get the issue right for the entire county, and the decision should not be rushed.

Ellison and the plan commission set parameters Wednesday about how the board will accept public comment, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 10 in the Cal Brand meeting room at Columbus City Hall.

While the public hearing for confined feeding operations is expected to attract a large crowd, up to three other items will be on the plan commission’s agenda that day.

Commission members decided to limit the Feb. 10 meeting to two and a half hours, which was criticized by John O’Halloran, a representative of the Bartholomew County Residents Alliance.

The alliance advocates larger setbacks for confined feeding operations than what was recommended by the majority of the Bartholomew County CAFO/CFO Regulation Study Committee. The committee met for more than a year before providing majority opinion and minority opinion recommendations to county officials on how the confined feeding ordinance could be amended.

“I’m surprised you would put limitations so only a handful of people get up to talk,” said O’Halloran, who also told commission members the committee’s majority recommendations do not represent the voice of most Bartholomew County residents.

In Indiana, an animal feeding operation with 600 or more swine in confinement is considered a confined feeding operation (CFO).

On the other hand, a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) is a CFO that meets or exceeds the threshold of 2,500 swine, each weighing 55 pounds or more.

The study committee recently added CFO to its name, reflecting its decision that their zoning regulations should not be based on the number of animals.

Although the plan commission will have copies of stricter requirements endorsed by a minority of committee members, only the majority recommendations will be proposed as ordinance changes next month.

Ellison, as well as O’Halloran, agreed that more residents at next month’s meeting will speak in favor of stronger restrictions than what is proposed in the majority committee recommendation.

O’Halloran requested that an additional special meeting dedicated specifically to the CAFO issue be scheduled after normal business hours instead of during the day, in order to allow more people to attend.

Commission members followed a recommendation by city/county planner Jeff Bergman to wait until after the Feb. 10 meeting before considering O’Halloran’s request.

Since some people at the Feb. 10 meeting may bring PowerPoint projections or provide written documents, the commission is requiring those materials be submitted in advance no later than 5 p.m. Feb. 1 at the City of Columbus Planning Department, on the second floor at Columbus City Hall.

Plan commission members agreed to limit speakers to five minutes utilizing soft cues such as colored cards to enforce time restrictions, rather than audio cues.

While commission members won’t attempt to control subject matter, they will suggest that speakers avoid repetition as well as abstain from bringing up related matters with no direct bearing on the zoning issues.

Examples of those kind of topics would be expressing opinions on broad topics such as animal welfare or the importance of farmers, plan commission members said.

If commission members vote to recommend changes, the proposal will first be sent back to the planning department before a second reading and additional public hearing is scheduled.

If the plan commission recommends changes to the ordinance, it would then be sent to the Bartholomew County Commissioners, who have final authority to enact confined feeding zoning changes.

But before the three county commissioners consider the proposals, a final legal review will be conducted by Bartholomew County attorney Grant Tucker.

Unless the commissioners vote to suspend the rules, the three county commissioners would have to pass proposed changes to zoning regulations on two separate meetings that will include two public hearings before the changes go into effect.

If you go

The Bartholomew County Plan Commission will have a public hearing on new setback requirements for confined feeding operations.

When: 8:30 a.m. Feb. 10

Where: Cal Brand meeting room, Columbus City Hall

What you need to know: Anyone wishing to distribute handouts or have a visual presentation needs to submit their information to the City of Columbus – Bartholomew County Planning Department at Columbus City Hall by 5 p.m. Feb. 1. Presentations will be limited to five minutes per speaker.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.