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CAFO denied by commission

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

The Area Plan Commission voted Monday night to kill a proposed CAFO that faced a large opposition from neighbors of the proposed site.

Local farmer Nolan Holloway's preliminary plan for the 9,240-pig farm won the commission's conditional approval in October, but this time the commission voted 8-2 to deny Holloway a permit.

Board member Myron Brankle was especially vocal about his opposition to the planned farm.

“The bottom line is these members, we members of the Area Plan, we have control of all those houses near that property right now ... if we vote this approved, we're voting to lower the property values, the health in that area,” he said.

Brankle said he had looked at other Grant County CAFOs and seen a negative effect on property values around those farms.

“These CAFOs, they emit smell 24-7, 365 days a year,” Brankle said.

Holloway told the board although he wasn't planning to live at the site of the CAFO, he would have no problem living there.

“I wouldn't do anything to my neighbors that I wouldn't do to myself,” Holloway said.

Other commission members said one of the things Holloway had to show to be approved, that his farm would not “injure or adversely affect” surrounding properties, could not be proven without a doubt.

“There is no wiggle room. (Holloway) has to prove that it will not,” Board President Robert Bothwell said.

Board member Carolyn Earnest asked, “Can you prove to me without a shadow of a doubt ... that this proposed site would not have a leakage or a break somewhere? … Can you actually assure me that this could not happen?”

“I can't promise you that I won't get in a car accident on the way home, but I'm going to do everything in my power not to,” Holloway's attorney Brianna Schroeder said by way of example.

Schroeder said Holloway's proposal has “a long list of safety checks” to prevent such an event, including setbacks and the proper amount of storage in the manure pits as required by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).

Brankle claimed IDEM is “very lax” with its inspections and worried aloud that many of the inspections required by IDEM are to be performed by Holloway himself.

“(Holloway) signs everything under penalty of perjury,” Schroeder said in response.

Holloway's attorney also noted that he has agreed to abide by the regulations governing CAFOs and could be stuck with “massive fines” if he fails to comply.

Area Plan Director Larry Strange weighed in, saying his office's recommendation to deny the CAFO permit was based on looking at the long-ranging effect on the county.

“The staff recommendation is that the application should be denied based on what I perceive to be long-term development impacts that could accrue,” Strange said.

In the end, eight members voted to deny Holloway's permit: Myron Brankle, Mike Burton, Jerry Caudill, Carolyn Earnest, Rex Maynard, Jim McWhirt, Robert Monroe and Chuck Briede.

Board members Tyson Nuckols and Karen Owen voted the other way.

Owen said after the meeting she did have some concerns about potential traffic congestion near the CAFO but they weren't strong enough for her to vote down the farm.

“I just couldn't see any real reason not to approve it,” Owen said.

Organizer Sevgi Diedrich who has been involved in the neighborhood opposition to the farm said she was “shocked” at the Area Plan Commission's decision Monday night.

“It's a pleasant surprise. But it doesn't mean it's over,” Diedrich said. “It's a good first step.”

Holloway said the outcome wasn't a total surprise to him. 

"This county has a reputation for not being open to new industries," Holloway said. "It concerns me for the future for this generation and upcoming generations of agriculture in Grant County."

Holloway said the county is "missing out," and he started the project with with the hope he would be able to give back to a community his family has farmed in for generations. 

Holloway was undecided Monday night as to the next step for him and his proposed farm. 

The Area Plan Commission is still the subject of a lawsuit over the CAFO filed by seven homeowners who are appealing the commission's October approval decision.

Attorney for the commission, Bruce Elliott, told the board he thinks it's likely that litigation will be dropped after Monday's outcome.

Bothwell released a statement to the commission saying that the “tactics and behavior of both protagonist and antagonist parties has been deplorable” and if he had been given the chance to vote he would have voted against the CAFO.

Bothwell said he believes “CAFOs should be welcome in Grant County” but called for the commission and the county to take another look at the Grant County Code governing CAFOs “to create a better and more objective method of evaluating CAFO applications.”

Future CAFO applications in Grant County have been temporarily halted as the County Commissioners and the Area Plan Commission work to form a committee that will review the current code. The details of how the committee will be formed and who will be involved have not yet been decided.