Final decisions on CAFOs approaching

After two years of preparations, final decisions will be made over the next four weeks regarding controversial proposed setback changes for confined animal feeding operations.  

Among the proposals is a quarter-mile setback for confined feeding operations from schools, health care facilities, worship centers and recreational facilities, as well as a minimum lot size of 10 acres.

Topics brought up during Monday’s final informal discussion by the Bartholomew County Commissioners range from setback proposals for wells to the extent that current large-scale hog operations will be grandfathered in when or if new new setbacks are established.

If approved, the setback of a CFO to an off-site well would increase from the state-mandated 300 feet to 500 feet, city-county planner Jeff Bergman said.

New setbacks would not apply to existing operations unless an attempt is made to expand operations, he said. 

However, state laws says if a neighboring new building is erected after a CFO is already established, it would not have an impact on a feeding operation’s expansion, Bergman said.

Thirty-four residents attended Monday’s meeting, about 15 fewer than when the commissioners began reviewing recommendations April 18.

The first formal public hearing and initial vote has been tentatively set for May 9. The commissioners have currently scheduled the final hearing and final vote two weeks later — on May 23.

“This is not a perfect document, and time will tell its effectiveness,” commissioner Carl Lienhoop said of a list of 17 recommendations being considered. “But there’s been a lot of discussion and compromise from both sides.”

More people expressed their concerns on the issues Monday, including when commissioners chairman Rick Flohr said an air-quality measuring model for CFOs developed by Purdue professor Al Heber was never meant to be used for establishing setbacks in ordinances.

In response, both Sierra Club official Charlie Mitch and John O’Halloran of the Bartholomew County Residents Alliance said the model has been successfully used for that purpose by other Indiana counties.   

Mitch and O’Halloran have long advocated the use of the Heber model on a case-by-case basis, which is included in a CFO study committee’s minority recommendation.

But the commissioners are considering the committee’s majority recommendations that have been approved by the Bartholomew County Plan Commission.

The one change made by the plan commission stipulates that any farmer wishing to start a confined feeding operation must seek approval from the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals. As originally worded in the majority recommendation, BZA approval would not have been needed.

If that change is adopted, Bartholomew County would be like Jackson County in keeping CFOs a conditional land use requiring public hearings before the BZA. 

In contrast, both Jennings and Johnson counties lists CFOS as a permitted land use, while regulations vary by zoning district and CFO size in Shelby County, Lienhoop said.

There are currently no such regulations in either Decatur or Brown County, he said.  

While the CFO issue will not be on the May 2 commissioners agenda, public concerns may still be brought up at that time, the commissioners said.

What's next?

The Bartholomew County Commissioners have outlined the following tentative schedule for proposed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance regarding confined animal feeding operations.

The first formal public hearing and initial vote will be May 9, while the final hearing and final vote will be May 23.

The commissioners must vote on the recommendations from the Bartholomew County Plan Commission before June 7 or they will automatically go into effect.

The commissioners meet at 10 a.m. in their chambers on the first floor of the Bartholomew County Governmental Office Building at the northwest corner of Third and Franklin streets.

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