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Editorial: Approval process for CAFOs fair to all parties

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A proposed hog farm in northeastern Bartholomew County is raising a stink with some residents. But whether you like or dislike the idea, what you should be supportive of is an established process that is required for the approval of a confined animal feeding operation.

The process allows for creating or expanding a business but also permits public comment on the proposal and requires state and local agencies to examine the project and grant approval before construction can begin. Both sides get a chance to present their case.

At issue here is that William Gelfius of Hartsville wants to build two 80-by-400-foot swine buildings — one this year and the other later if market conditions are good — on his farm property along East County Road 200N. Each building would house 4,400 head of wean-to-finish swine, making it the largest-ever confined feeding operation for hogs in the county.

The thought of possibly 8,800 hogs being housed near Anderson Falls has some residents in the area concerned and taking action. About 135 people attended the Jan. 27 county Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, where Gelfius sought a zoning exception for his property, which is needed for the project to proceed. Of the 26 people who offered their thoughts to the board members, only six spoke in support of the project.

Residents raised concerns about water contamination, an increased risk of bacteria caused by hog manure, the smell of hog manure and a negative impact on property values and quality of life.

Gelfius and his son, Justin Gelfius, both had an opportunity to address the board and the concerns. They spoke about the state-of-the-art equipment and farming methods that would be used, plus buffering by trees.

The zoning exception sought by Gelfius is one of three approvals needed before constructing a new confined animal feeding operation.

Each county has different rules. In Bartholomew County, applicants are required to obtain approval for a stormwater pollution prevention plan from the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District and zoning approval from the county Board of Zoning Appeals. Gelfius is seeking a conditional use of what is permitted on the land.

Also, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management must approve a permit for the project.

Things the agency considers in applications for confined animal feeding operations include manure handling and storage, stormwater runoff, facility setbacks, and facility designs and construction. When an application is filed with IDEM, nearby residents are notified, and they have 30 days to comment at the state level.

A motion to approve Gelfius’ zoning request failed to receive a second; and ultimately the board voted to postpone a decision until Feb. 24, so its members could have more time to think about the proposal. They didn’t want to make a snap decision.

And the process requiring local and state approvals for confined animal feeding operations prevents an overly fast approval on something that could significantly impact an area and its residents. That’s how it should be.

If you want your voice to be heard, there’s still time. Show up at the Feb. 24 meeting and say what’s on your mind.

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