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County board, IDEM approve 4,400-head plan

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A Hartsville farmer is making plans for a 4,400-head swine building in Clifty Township, while an opposition group will meet Thursday to determine how to stop it.

After a seven-hour meeting Monday night, Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals members voted 3-1 to allow William Gelfius to build a concentrated animal feeding operation at 20565 E. County Road 200N.

Gelfius’ hog building, proposed to be 82 feet wide and 411 feet long with a 10-foot-deep manure pit, is planned for the southeast corner of Gelfius’ property. He also received approval Monday from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for the hog farm, Gelfius’ environmental consultant Kristen Whittington said.

Nearly 200 people watched the board’s decision in the Columbus City Hall large meeting room. Some wore pins that read “Vote Yes 4 Gelfius,” while others wore name tags that said “No CAFO.”

Gelfius sent out a statement to neighbors Tuesday saying he planned to be a good neighbor and address concerns about odor, water contamination, truck traffic and effects on quality of life.

“We mean no one any harm, and it’s our intent to do this the best possible way it can be done,” he said.

Gelfius said he had no timeline and didn’t know when construction would begin.

Anderson Falls CAFO Fighters, who have opposed the Gelfius proposal since it was announced in January, will meet Thursday to talk about what can be done now that the hog farm has been approved, member Jim Murray said.

Another member, Kathy Reese, said the group will continue to fight the hog farm, although Gelfius has the approval he needs to start construction.

“We will do whatever it takes to stop this. Our plan is to take whatever steps we possibly can,” Reese said. “Every member of our group took different items to investigate and research. We certainly are not willing to call it quits or say we’ve been defeated by any means.”

Murray said the group is exploring whether the board’s decision can be appealed but is unsure whether the group would pursue that.

City-county planning director Jeff Bergman said an appeal can be filed, but it would be in the form of a lawsuit and would go through the courts, not the planning department.

During the meeting, about 50 people gave an opinion about the hog farm to the board.

Leah Beyer of Columbus said the feeding operation would not impact property values. She moved into a house next to several hog farms in Shelby County in 2005 and sold the house last year for 40 percent more than her purchase price, she said.

“We also had a swimming pool, rode our bikes, enjoyed the outdoors, had barbecues in the middle of summer and were not impacted by the odor or had any water problems from the thousands of pigs that lived within miles of the house,” she said. “From my personal experience, people will be able to live and function the same way that they’ve always lived and functioned.”

Zach Mathews of Hartsville said if there was any chance that the hog farm could be dangerous or harmful to nearby residents, the board should not approve the plan.

Every one of the requirements for the conditional use to have the hog farm “has the words ‘will not, will be, will not and will be’ and that means the criteria for this board is that you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the proposal will not be injurious,” Mathews said. “It doesn’t say ‘could not, should not or may not.’ You will have to answer to the citizens here today and community how you were able determine that this conditional use will not be injurious to the public.”

Gelfius brought in a team of experts to counter those who opposed the hog farm and had them talk about the issues that opponents raised.

Dr. Scott Taylor, Northside Pediatrics, told the board the Gelfius farm would not have harmful health side effects. Fort Wayne agronomist Dan Coffin talked about the uses of manure in soil and plant growth. Livestock Engineering Solutions Inc. senior engineer Mike Veenhuizen, from Greenwood, described the hog building and how it would withstand corrosion and weather while preventing any contamination.

“Agriculture has changed a lot, and I think we as farmers have done a poor job of getting out there and telling our story,” Gelfius said. “We realized we needed to give (the board) a basis to make a sound decision on, and that’s what we did last night.”

Board member Zack Ellison made a motion to approve the hog farm after listening to the experts, saying their additional information persuaded him to vote for approval.

The increased semitrailer truck traffic and the possibility of manure pollution would not be large enough issues to deny Gelfius’ request, Ellison said.

In a staff report compiled by the county’s planning department, concerns were raised about County Road East 200N being too narrow to transport livestock. The staff also wrote that a spill from the hog farm’s manure pit could pollute the surrounding area, including the Fall Fork Creek that flows into Anderson Falls.

Bergman said he thought Monday night’s discussion could possibly provide information that would be helpful when the board considers future confined animal feeding operation proposals.

“I think there’s a lot to digest from the meeting last night, and there was the immediate issue at hand of the Gelfius application,” he said. “A lot of the discussion will be brought up again in confined feeding operations in Bartholomew County.”

The plan needed to go before the board of zoning appeals because a confined animal feeding operation requiring IDEM approval automatically requires approval from the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals, according to county ordinances.

In January, Gelfius proposed a 8,800-head hog farm on the same property. The board was unable to decide on that plan, but Gelfius withdrew it before a second public hearing was planned in February.

In April, the county planning department received a new application from Gelfius for the smaller hog farm. The board reviewed the application at its May 28 meeting and then conducted the public hearing Monday.

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