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No action on CAFO ordinance

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Tensions rose at a meeting of the Grant County Area Plan Commission where a change to county rules regarding animal feeding operations was under consideration, while a plan for construction of a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) north of Marion is set to be heard at the commission’s October meeting.

The proposed change – to require animal feeding operations to have a one-mile setback from any existing church – was tabled Monday night when a motion to send it to the County Commissioners with a negative recommendation fell short of the seven votes needed for a majority.

The ordinance change, if passed into law, would not affect local farmer Nolan Holloway’s proposal to build a CAFO, according to Robert Bothwell, president of the Area Plan Commission, even though the proposed site is less than a mile from Jalapa Road Freewill Baptist Church. Holloway’s CAFO plans will be considered under the current ordinance as it stands.

But Holloway’s CAFO, though not the official topic of the public hearing, still formed the backdrop of the discussion as anti-CAFO neighbors and pro-CAFO supporters argued their cases.

Arndt Mueller, the architect of the amendment, brought the commissioners a number of studies showing the adverse health effects of CAFOs on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, who make up a large part of church congregations.

Taylor Frank, a minister and an owner of land near the CAFO site, argued the farm would adversely affect many “meaningful church activities” that take place outside such as church picnics and Vacation Bible School.

Anti-CAFO organizers invited Margo Tucker, who works for the Citizen’s Action Coalition to advocate for the regulation of factory farming, to speak at the meeting in support of the ordinance change.

“Counties are the last line of defense when it comes to CAFOs and should use their regulatory power to create setbacks to ensure that citizens and natural resources of each county are adequately protected,” Tucker said.

Tammy Selleck opposed the ordinance, pointing out the difference in scale between a school and a church in terms of how often they meet and how many people are affected.

Eric Wright of the Grant County Farm Bureau asked the county to consider, in general, the precedent they would be setting of tighter regulation against farms and how that would affect the county’s economy when trying to attract business and growth.

When Debbie Troy, a supporter of the ordinance change, responded to Wright’s comments by asking if he’d be willing to live near a CAFO himself, the discussion turned personal.

Wright, during his rebuttal, said, “You need to be educated on your term ‘factory farms,’ you’re embarrassing yourself.”

Bothwell threatened to call a recess if the discussion did not proceed in a civil manner.

Several members of the public also complained that the venue for the public meeting had not been changed, as at least 20 people were left standing in the aisles and around the sides of the council chambers because there were not enough seats.

Steve Smith told the commission they were just getting “a small taste” of the number of people who care about the CAFO because the rest had been turned away last time when the meeting room was full.

“We asked for a change in venue so we could accommodate the people most affected by this stuff going on, you said no. So I’m here to tell you that what you’re looking at is a small group of the people that are affected by this stuff,” Smith said.

County Commissioner Ron Mowery, speaking as a member of the audience, also asked the commission to consider a change in venue for the October 1 meeting, when Holloway’s plans for a CAFO are set to be considered by the commission.

The Oct. 1 meeting will be a preliminary review of Holloway’s plans, and a decision by the commission could be made at the November Area Plan Commission meeting. The farm does not need County Commissioners approval to go ahead, just the approval of the Area Plan Commission.

Before the ordinance came to a vote, Bothwell asked Area Plan Director Larry Strange how many CAFOs are currently in Grant County that are within a mile of a church, and whether his department had received any complaints about them from the churches.

Strange reported out of 13 Grant County animal feeding operations, five are near churches and he had not received complaints.

The motion made, to send the ordinance change on to the Commissioners with a recommendation not to approve it, failed because the vote was five in favor, two against, with one abstaining. The commission needed seven votes for a majority of the 13 total commission members.

The ordinance was tabled until the Oct. 1 meeting.

Bothwell said he has asked Strange to set up a tour of an operating CAFO for the commission members sometime before the Oct. 1 meeting, when they will begin deliberating over Holloway’s plans.