Discussion, but no decision, on confined feeding setbacks

The Bartholomew County commissioners agree that no matter what they do, they will not make everyone happy with their decision about new zoning setbacks for confined feeding operations.

The county is considering quarter-mile setbacks for confined feeding operations from schools, health care facilities, worship centers and recreational facilities, as well as a minimum lot size of 10 acres.  

In terms of hog farms, the proposed setbacks would apply only to new or expanding operations with 600 or more animals.    

While a few people spoke, neither Monday’s meeting or another review on April 25 will be considered one of the two public hearings required before the commissioners can have a final vote, said commissioners Chairman Rick Flohr.

Unless rules are suspended, the first vote on the change — one of two that must take place for the ordinance — won’t occur before the May 3 primary.  

Flohr and commissioner Larry Kleinhenz are seeking re-election this year. Flohr does not have an opponent in the primary but Kleinhenz is being challenged by two other Republicans Jorge Morales and Susan Thayer Fye.

During an April 6 candidate’s forum, Kleinhenz said he would have a hard time not supporting the current recommendations, which are widely viewed as a compromise between the farming community and nearby residents.

Morales and Thayer Fye said in earlier interviews they support the proposed setbacks now being considered by the county. 

Flohr said his vote will reflect what he believes is best for all county residents, rather than his personal preferences.

However, Flohr was reluctant to support any new regulations as a member of the Bartholomew County CFO/CAFO Study Committee which studied the current zoning regulations for more than a year before making a recommendation for the setbacks.

Monday was the first opportunity for many to learn how Commissioner Carl Lienhoop feels about the proposed setbacks. Lienhoop has two years remaining on his current term.

Lienhoop said there has been a lot of propaganda in the local discussions about confined feeding operations during the past two years.

The proposed setbacks first issued as the study committee’s majority report – and later approved by the Bartholomew County Plan Commission – will make the current situation “500 to 1,300 percent better” for those concerned about health and environmental concerns, Lienhoop said.         

Lienhoop said he finds it interesting that Decatur, Brown and Johnson counties haven’t established their own confined feeding setbacks, while Jackson and Jennings counties have some regulations “due to what one person did 30 to 50 years ago.” 

During their discussions Monday, the commissioners spent time talking about how a confined feeding operation might help a farmer who does not own prime agricultural-preferred land.  

But the commissioners also talked about their concerns about private and public schools already located in agricultural areas, including Rockcreek and Mt. Healthy elementary schools.   

The commissioners also brought up a variety of individual and complex circumstances that might surface if the recommendations are approved.   

“Trying to come up with something balanced that works is so difficult,” Flohr said.  

Under the recommendations, any person wishing to build a new confined feeding operation — or expand an existing one — would still have to go before the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals for a public hearing.

If the commissioners do not act before June 7, the recommendations approved by the plan commission on March 9 would automatically go into effect, Bergman said.   

What's next?

The Bartholomew County Commissioners will continue a review and discussion regarding proposed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance regarding confined animal feeding operations at 10 a.m. April 25.

The commissioners meet in their chambers on the first floor of the Bartholomew County Governmental Office Building at the northwest corner of Third and Franklin streets.

The county is considering quarter-mile setbacks for confined feeding operations from schools, health care facilities, worship centers and recreational facilities, as well as a minimum lot size of 10 acres. 

After April 25, two additional public hearings will be scheduled. The commissioners must vote on the recommendations from the Bartholomew County Plan Commission before June 7, or they will automatically go into effect.   

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