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Indiana high court hears arguments in camp's fight vs. zoning change to allow large hog farm

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has been tasked with deciding which county court will hear a lawsuit filed by a northwestern Indiana youth camp seeking to stop a farmer from raising more than 9,000 hogs on nearby land.

The court heard oral arguments Monday in the lawsuit, which challenges a zoning decision allowing a proposed large-scale hog operation that would abut the Carroll County and White County line. White County commissioners want YMCA Camp Tecumseh's suit to be heard in White County. The camp's attorneys want the case heard in Carroll County, where the camp is located about 20 miles north of Lafayette.

Indiana's appeals court ruled in June that White County is the preferred venue, reversing a lower court's ruling. Camp officials appealed that ruling to the state's high court.

Attorney Matthew Albaugh for YMCA Camp Tecumseh said a livestock farm with more than 9,000 hogs housed only 800 yards from the camp would harm campers' outdoor experience by producing strong odors that would waft across camp property, which is just 800 yards from the proposed farm site.

"The very essence, the nature of what Camp Tecumseh does, is the pursuit of outdoor activities. There are 35,000 visitors to Camp Tecumseh's grounds — including 12,000 children — every year. They boat, they raft, they swim, they perform archery, they go bird-watching," he said.

Albaugh added that the hogs' odors and millions of gallons of hog manure that would be produced on the farm's 7-acre site would impact the property value of several single-family house and residential halls on camp property, as well as three outdoor chapels. Albaugh added that the camp is within the farm site's "zone of impact."

Mark Crandley, an attorney for the White County board of commissioners, said the case should be heard in White County because that's where zoning officials held multiple hearings on farmer John Erickson's request to rezone seven acres of a 75-acre plot. The county approved that change last year, opening the door for Erickson to build and operate a confined feeding operation.

"What we're looking at is a review of the decision-making process of White County officials," he said.

Crandley said the proposed hog farm has not been built and Erickson still does not have a needed state environmental permit for such a large farm.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush questioned Crandley about what actual burden would be posed if the justices were to decide that the case should be heard in Carroll County.

"What's the harm in driving 15, 20 miles?" she asked.

After Monday's hour-long hearing, Rush said the justices would consider the arguments and briefs filed, but did not indicate when the court might rule.

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