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County delays ruling on Hawcreek feeding operation


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A Hawcreek Township pork producer’s request to build a confined animal feeding operation has been put on hold until next month.

Nearly 200 people crowded into a county’s Board of Zoning Appeals hearing room Monday — some favoring and some against the proposal by pork producer Jeff Shoaf, who farms northwest of Hope.

Shoaf is seeking approval to place a confined feeding operation about a half-mile from the unincorporated community known as Old St. Louis.

The proposed hog barn would be 82 feet by 205 feet and house 2,000 pigs that would be raised from 12 pounds to 275 pounds every six months. It would have an 8-foot-deep manure pit under the building.

The barn is proposed to be about 409 feet closer than the separation required by county ordinance between confined feeding operations and homes, according to the Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Department, which recommended rejecting the Shoaf application because it didn’t meet setback requirement from Old St. Louis homes.

Twenty-one people expressed opinions during two hours of discussion.

Supporters

Tom Finke, Shoaf’s neighbor and a member of the county plan commission, supported the proposal.

Finke said he didn’t think it would negatively impact the area where he has lived most of his life.

“My wife and I own 40 acres of farm ground directly across, south of (County Road) 800N, adjacent to the Shoaf farm,” Finke said. “I have no problem with the use of the proposed buildings.”

Andy Tauer, with the Indiana Soybean Alliance, also supported Shoaf’s plans, saying the economic impact of the farm would be good for all county residents.

Tauer mentioned an alliance study that found for every $1 of property taxes paid by county residents, $1.15 is spent on residents for county services such as road improvements and police fire department protection.

“They’re a net loss to the county in property taxes,” he said.

“In comparison, for agricultural (residents), for every dollar they pay in, they only use 27.2 cents,” Tauer said. “So they are subsidizing the residential homeowners in the county.”

BZA Chairman Dewayne Hines read a letter of support from Brent and Linda Wallace, who live at 12322 E. County Road 800N in St. Louis.

“As residents and property owners, we give our written consent to Mr. Shoaf to construct this swine building,” wrote the Wallaces, who live within a half-mile of Shoaf property. “We enjoy our rural lifestyle and realize there are certain facets that come with living in the county.”

Opponents

County resident David Kadlec said he sees things differently. He said he has lived near similar farms in the past where the smell of manure was too much to handle, so he moved.

“It was horrendous. It definitely made it hard for me to sell my place,” he said.

Kadlec predicted there would be a lawsuit if the county ignored the setback requirement for Shoaf’s proposal.

“Those distances were established to preserve a livable environment for people,” Kadlec said.

The proposed hog farm is 150 feet south of Little Tough Creek.

Indiana law requires a confined feeding operation be at least 300 feet from any surface water but also states that the applicant can obtain a reduced setback by adding a berm between the farm and the water source.

Shoaf has proposed installing a berm that will be 300 feet long, 12 feet wide and a foot tall, to be covered with grass.

Jean Wilkins, who lives off Marr Road, said she is worried about what could come downstream — from the hog farm into Little Tough Creek and then into Haw Creek, which flows into her private well.

She said she doesn’t like the trend that modern farming operations seem to be taking.

“It’s not really farming anymore. It’s industry with living animals,” Wilkins said.

Tabled request

Residents at the meeting said they were disappointed and confused that no decision was reached by the zoning appeals board.

Member Jason Newton said he had a conflict of interest and recused himself from a vote. When asked why, he said, “No comment.”

Shoaf’s attorney, Kristin Whittington, said Shoaf sends a large amount of grain through Richards Elevator, which is co-owned and operated by Newton.

Whittington said Newton was not required to recuse himself but chose to do so.

A second board member, Zack Ellison, did not attend the hearing.

The three remaining board members — Hines, Gil Palmer and Roger Glick — could not come up with a motion that other board members would agree to, which automatically continued the request to the next meeting.

Glick said the distance from the nearest residential zoned area to the proposed farming structure would be just over a half-mile, leading to his motion to approve the proposal. But his motion died for a lack of second.

Palmer said the farm property line, not the proposed building, is where the distance compliance for the ordinance is measured and is where Shoaf failed to meet the requirements. But he added he was unable to decide for or against the farm.

“I would have liked to have a full board,” Shoaf said. “I just think that if we could have worked with the full board, it would have made it easier for everyone,” he said.

Shoaf said the BZA’s inability to make a decision on his application was slowing the process, but he plans to go before the board again July 21.

Committee formation

Bartholomew County, meanwhile, is forming a citizens committee to evaluate county ordinances about concentrated animal feeding operations. County Purdue Extension educator Kris Medic will serve as group leader.

Medic is working with the Bartholomew County Board of Commissioners to determine what information is needed from those who want to serve on the committee.

Sometime in July, the county will open the process for residents to apply to be on the committee, Medic said.

A handful of people have requested to be on the committee so far, Medic said. She said seven or eight volunteers will be chosen and begin meeting in September or October.

Applications will be considered by an executive committee made up of the county commissioners and other county officials.

The committee will not consider changes to existing ordinances about other types of livestock operations, Medic said. Any committee recommendations won’t affect the confined feeding or concentrated feeding requests pending before the county’s board of zoning appeals, she said.

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