Many speakers seek strict control over animal-feeding operations

With concerns ranging from property values to health risks, people requesting strong setback requirements for confined animal feeding operations made their case en masse.

A public hearing before the Bartholomew County Plan Commission began formal consideration of proposed changes recommended by a majority of the Bartholomew County CFO/CAFO Regulation Study Committee.

Of 25 speakers who addressed the commission Wednesday, four out of five voiced support for stronger setback requirements than what is included in the committee’s majority recommendation.

The 12-member study committee convened for 21 meetings over a 16-month period. Unable to craft a compromise to appease all parties, the committee presented two sets of recommendations, those favored by majority and minority factions.

Six speakers kept most of their comments focused on potentially harmful health effects resulting from pig manure.

One was Rebecca Lorenz, a Columbus Regional Hospital nurse who cares regularly for patients with respiratory problems and infections, she said.

Lorenz said when she attended one of the committee meetings, she was “appalled at the lack of concern for health” by some who would later create the majority recommendations.

Among the Franklin Street resident’s top concerns was the bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

It has been frequently linked with hog manure and is responsible for more than 80,000 annual invasive infections in the U.S. that can be deadly for those with weakened immune systems, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Five local residents spent most of their addresses before the commission accusing those issuing the majority recommendations of neglecting science and fact.

David Harpenau of Overlook Court was among many who advocate the use of an air-quality measuring model developed by Purdue agricultural and biological engineering professor Al Heber for each CAFO applicant.

The model, developed after a two-year study, also takes into account potential health issues as well as smells that emanate from large animal-breeding operations.

Property value concerns

While four speakers focused almost exclusively on the impact large-scale pig operations could have on property values, that same concern was mentioned by several others who appeared before the commission.John O’Halloran made his case that a CAFO could reduce neighboring property values by 50 percent or more.Although the impact of large feeding operations on property values has been widely debated, O’Halloran cited an Indiana University study, as well as property value data from neighboring Jackson County, to support his claim.

Another concern raised repeatedly was the majority recommendation that confined feeding operations should not be regulated based on the number of animals.

The phrase “size matters” was frequently used by several speakers, including Tom Heller, who described removing the distinction between a CFO and CAFO as “unwise and deceitful.”

Several residents also opposed a majority proposal that would allow the county planning department to approve a confined feeding operation as a permitted use as long as it met the ordinance requirements, without public notice or hearing.

Another side

Jim Stafford of Hope said he considers potential water contamination and other health-related concerns “non-issues.”Stafford was among country residents who support the majority recommendation and want less-restrictive setbacks.Toni Whiteside of rural Hartsville said those seeking stronger setbacks are mostly urban residents with “no first-hand knowledge about agriculture.”

They were among a few people attending Wednesday’s meeting who said they believe the impact of manure control is adequately covered by Indiana Department of Environmental Management regulations.

Kristen Whittington, who owns a agribusiness firm near Edinburgh, told the commissioners those regulations “hold farmers to the highest standards.”

Tough enough?

In contrast, Kathy Hershey, a long-time opponent of CAFO, said IDEM regulations are extremely lenient in comparison with rules in other states.In addition, Hershey contends IDEM doesn’t have the staff to proactively enforce their regulations. Instead, they can only react after a problem with a CAFO is uncovered, she said.Most of the topics and concerns raised during two and one-half hours of testimony in front of about 60 people had been expressed before in several meetings held over the past two years.

But the last speaker — Columbus attorney Jean Terpstra — drew applause from the audience after bringing up a new topic.

Most CAFO operators set themselves up as a limited liability corporation and list as few assets as possible when establishing their LLC, Terpstra said.

“These things are set up to have no assets, so there’s no liability when it goes wrong,” Terpstra said. “But they are not limiting the liability of people drinking the water, breathing the air or who have a medical situation.”

Terpstra strongly recommended that CAFO operators provide some type of insurance, such as a bond or assets, that will cover damages and restore neighboring property values that become damaged.

When considering the evidence, city-county planning director Jeff Bergman said plan commission members will be instructed to use the following criteria to make their decision on whether or not to recommend the majority recommendations:

The most desirable use for land

The conservation of property values

Responsible growth and development

How the proposals fit the county’s comprehensive plan.

Current conditions of impacted property

What's next?

The Bartholomew County Plan Commission will resume its public hearing regarding a committee’s recommendations on confined feeding operations.

The hearing will resume at 8:30 a.m. March 9 in the Cal Brand meeting room at Columbus City Hall.  

That’s when people who did not speak Wednesday will have a second opportunity to present new concerns.   

CFO/CAFO differences

A committee’s majority recommendation being considered by the Bartholomew County Plan Commission suggests that confined feeding operations should not be regulated based on the number of animals.

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.

If the majority recommendation is adopted, there would be no local distinction between a CFO and a CAFO.    

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