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Is hog farm put to rest?

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Clifty Township farmer William Gelfius has decided to re-evaluate his plans for a concentrated animal feeding operation to raise hogs in eastern Bartholomew County, but foes are not ruling out another try.

“I don’t think he’s done,” said Kathy Hershey, a member of a group calling itself the Anderson Falls CAFO Fighters.

“He has too much money invested to walk away from it,” she said.

Hershey and other opponents anticipate that a scaled-back version of the proposal, which sought approval for up to 8,800 hogs near Anderson Falls Park, will be introduced in the near future.

“This was not an easy decision and one which was not taken lightly,” Gelfius said in a written statement. “Our family felt at this time we need to re-evaluate our position on this matter.”

He has a 378-acre farm along East County Road 200N.

Under rules established by the Board of Zoning Appeals, the proposal cannot be heard again for a year. However, Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Director Jeff Bergman said there are two scenarios by which it could be considered again this year:

The Board of Zoning Appeals could waive the waiting period if an identical application were filed in less than a year.

The hearing process would start over if Gelfius filed a new application that is substantially different from one that was withdrawn.

“Whether it’s a change of philosophy or a tactical move, it’s all sheer speculation,” opponent Jim Murray said.

Instead, both Murray and Hershey said they believe the Anderson Falls CAFO Fighters need to focus their efforts toward educating local officials, as well as the general public, on the potential dangers of large-scale hog operations.

For example, opponents learned that in 1997 North Carolina passed a law prohibiting the expansion of existing hog operations and placed a temporary moratorium on new hog CAFOs, Hershey said.

According to news accounts, the moratorium became permanent in 2007 with the Swine Farm Environmental Performance Standards Act, which banned new lagoons and mandated that any new or expanded CAFOs must use environmentally superior technologies to substantially reduce emissions and prevent waste discharges into surface water and groundwater.

In contrast, the Indiana General Assembly is considering two measures that the Hoosier Environmental Council claims are designed to provide legal protection to large-scale hog operations, as long as they are using generally accepted livestock production practices.

Opponents frequently cited a Hoosier Environmental Council statement earlier this month that “factory farms will pollute air and water, contribute to contaminated drinking water and algae blooms, reduce property values and contribute to food-borne illnesses.”

Retired Bartholomew County Purdue Extension educator Mike Ferree said those concerns are not new.

“However, I don’t agree with many of them on the basis they do not have sound science and data to support their claims,” Ferree said. “Unfortunately, when you reach this point in a community decision, sound science is not accepted by those who are driven by emotions or their preference on how food is produced.”

The wide variety of viewpoints, along with emotion evoked by large-scale hog operations, are the prime reason why the Anderson Falls CAFO Fighters feel the need to address the issues with local officials.

In an email, Ferree wrote, “Bill (Gelfius) has developed a reputation as a very responsible and successful farmer who does not want to harm their community and environment through the production of food and fiber.”

But Murray said Gelfius’ character and integrity were never in question.

“It’s just the project and the location we’re against,” Murray said.

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