Commissioners should rethink setbacks, find better solution

A multi-year process to review and potentially change Bartholomew County’s regulations for confined and concentrated feeding operations of animals is nearing the end.

The Bartholomew County Commissioners have given initial approval to an ordinance with new distance requirements, or setbacks, from other properties and structures — reflecting the majority opinion of a study committee — and can give final approval at their May 23 meeting.

They shouldn’t.

Too many doubts have been raised that should give the commissioners pause. Monday’s commissioners meeting showed why.

The recommendations sent to the commissioners are viewed as a compromise between those who favor little or no changes in regulations to protect farmers’ property rights and those who want extensive setbacks to guard against threats to public health and the environment.

However, Commissioner Rick Flohr made a motion to reject the recommendations because of the number of rural residents and farmers he had heard speak against the proposed changes.

The other two commissioners, Larry Kleinhenz and Carl Lienhoop, expressed similar sentiments about rejecting the recommendations before ultimately voting in favor of them.

Kleinhenz said he couldn’t bring himself to deny stronger setback protections for county residents.

While stronger protections are indeed important, the goal should be to approve the best protections — even if it means the process to resolve the issue takes longer.

The objections to the proposed recommendations by residents and even some farmers should make the commissioners rethink whether the proposed changes would best serve interests of the county and its residents.

The fact that Jackson County officials have been wrapped up in legal matters involving confined feeding operations and neighboring property owners — costing the officials more than $200,000 — should make the commissioners consider whether they have examined the unintended consequences of approving the recommended changes.

It’s our belief that the commissioners should approve the most extensive setbacks suggested — outlined in the study committee’s minority opinion — to provide the strongest environmental and residential property protections, while also allowing farmers to operate confined feeding operations.

Ultimately, the commissioners may have a different view, but their decision should reflect a strong belief that what is approved will best serve the county and its residents. Changes can’t afford to be made half-heartedly just to finish a process.

The commissioners should have confidence to reject the proposed changes as insufficient and take the necessary steps to achieve a solution that is most beneficial.