Bartholomew County CAFO holding open house for new finishing barns

Confined animal feeding operations have been controversial over the past three years, even though few Bartholomew County residents had ever stepped inside one of the big livestock farms.

Next week, local residents have a chance to see one for themselves when Gelfius Farms, located off East County Road 200N in Clifty Township, holds an open house to let them inside its new state-of-the-art finishing barns.

Several hundred invitations have been issued for Wednesday tours at the facility, located along the Bartholomew-Decatur County line about 1½ miles northwest of Waynesburg. The open house will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

William Gelfius filed his original proposal to establish an 8,800-hog CAFO in 2013. His proposal drew about 135 residents to the Bartholomew County Government Building in January 2014. From among 26 speakers who addressed the Board of Zoning Appeals, six spoke in support of the CAFO.

After the plans were withdrawn, a second proposal submitted by Gelfius to house half the number of hogs he originally sought was approved by the BZA in June 2014.

But even when passions were at their highest, CAFO advocates and opponents publicly described Gelfius as a responsible farmer, a good and caring neighbor and an honorable individual.

After the Bartholomew County commissioners established stricter setbacks for confined feeding operations last May, the CAFO issue seemed to subside locally.

Wednesday’s tours coincide with a bill regarding CAFOs that has recently gained traction in the Indiana General Assembly.

An amended House Bill 1494, authored by State Rep. David Wolkins, R-Wabash, passed the House Environmental Affairs Committee 7-3 on Wednesday.

The bill would repeal a state statute requiring a confined feeding operator to obtain approval of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management before constructing or operating a CAFO. Instead, a person must obtain a permit from IDEM before constructing or operating a confined feeding operation, and for a permit holder to obtain a new permit or permit amendment from IDEM before constructing or expanding a manure-storage facility.

Prior to Wednesday’s action, the two lawmakers representing Columbus — State Rep. Milo Smith and State Sen. Greg Walker — both said they would not support Wolkins’ measure.

Language that prompted opponents to wrongly claim the bill cut the public out of the permitting process was modified, Wolkins said.

House Environmental Affairs committee members who voted no said the language remains unclear, however. Wolkins said he will seek to amend it further once it is brought up before the full House.

The only local lawmaker who serves on that committee — State Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville — voted in favor of the bill. Three other lawmakers recused themselves from voting.

Opponents, such as the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the measure still narrows liability to just local operators — not others such as financial backers or a company that buys their animals.

If you go

Gelfius Farms in Clifty Township will be conducting tours of their new state-of-the-art finishing barns constructed for their 4,400 hog confined animal feeding operation.

The tours will be part of an open house from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday. The barns are located on the north side of the farm, located at 20565 E. County Road 200N.

People who plan to attend are encouraged to call 812-371-2823 or send an email to kim@gelfiusfarms.com

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