By Nancy Allen
ST. HENRY -- A 75-year-old Darke County woman wept during a meeting Thursday night while her son read a statement on her behalf opposing a megafarm that could bring more than a million laying hens in five barns almost to her door step on Ross-Medford Road.
Another neighbor said she's prepared to appeal if the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) approves the needed permits for the farm.
More than 80 people attended the meeting at the Knights of Columbus Hall held by the ODA to hear oral testimony on the proposed farm expansion. The ODA is considering whether or not to approve draft permits for the farm, which would be owned by Brian and Kevin Winner of Rossburg, Ralph, Chris and Randy Rindler of St. Henry, and Kasey and Ronald Schwieterman of Fort Recovery.
Fourteen people spoke against the expansion with many receiving standing ovations from the crowd. One woman spoke in favor of it.
"My mom has lived here for 45 years and raised four children. This is where she wants to live the rest of her life," Ron Monnin said of his mother, Lucille, 13806 Ross-Medford Road, as she cried. "She already says she can't hang clothes on the line because they get speckled (with fly feces)." Monnin said his mother didn't object when Brian Winner wanted to put up the first, existing chicken barn with a capacity for 183,000 birds. But adding another fours barns with over 1 million birds is just too much, she said.
Monnin charged that the expansion would only benefit the seven-farm corporation owners and destroy the quality of life for the neighbors with excessive odor and flies.
The Winners, Rindlers and Schwietermans have applied for ODA permits to expand the farm to 1.28 million birds, which includes adding four high-rise barns capable of housing 288,000 chickens each. They also are seeking to build an egg processing plant, manure storage building and a storage pond that can hold 2 million gallons of egg wash water used to wash and process eggs.
While most of the testimony Thursday dealt with odor, flies and storm water runoff from the farm, some who spoke were particularly incensed about ODA's plan to allow the farm's egg wash storage pond within 2,000 feet of neighboring homes.
ODA rules say a storage pond cannot be within 2,000 feet of a residence, but exceptions can be made if a "proven technology" can be used to reduce odors from the pond. The farm's owners have proposed installing two aerators in the pond to reduce odor.
Pam Broering, 5427 North Star-Fort Loramie Road, blistered ODA spokesperson Deborah Abbott who attended Thursday's meeting for relaxing the rule and said ODA's site map is flawed and that seven homes, not four, lie within the 2,000 feet. She also said the ODA cannot say the aerators are a "proven technology," because one has never been used on a poultry farm in Ohio. Broering's home lies about 1,600 feet away from the pond site.
ODA officials earlier said there currently are no poultry operations in Ohio that uses aerators, though one farm in Indiana and wastewater treatment plants in Ohio use them.
Broering's husband Ron said he also feared odors from the composting of dead birds that would be done on the farm, and excess dust from trucks running down the road.
Bob Buschur, New Weston, said he is concerned that the permits do not include plans for grass-covered filter strips to slow down storm water runoff from the 5 1/2 acres of roof that would be built. He also expressed concerns that existing farm tiles could not handle the runoff. The farm is located in the upper Wabash River Watershed.
Pam Hicks, Fort Recovery, the only person to speak in favor of the expansion Thursday, urged neighbors to give the farm a chance, adding that the families' existing poultry operations are the "cleanest and best facilities in the business." The three families already have experience operating their own large egg farms, with the Rindlers recently receiving ODA approval to expand a St. Henry operation to 1.3 million birds.
None of the farm owners attended the Thursday meeting, but a prepared statement faxed to the newspaper said in part, "Just like our neighbors, we care about the environment and the community. Over the years, we've shown ourselves to be both responsible neighbors and responsible stewards of the environment. This won't change with the establishment of Ross-Medford Farms."
Taylor Stuck, who two months ago bought a home on Ross-Medford Road, was clearly upset.
"Why should we give them a chance in my backyard," he said in reply to Hicks' comments. "I don't want to smell their crap."
Abbott said it would take ODA officials about two weeks to make a decision on the permits that would allow the megafarm. The ODA also has received 11 written comments on the expansion, all against it.
Pam Broering said she is prepared to file an appeal if the ODA approves the permits. An appeal must be submitted within 30 days to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission (ERAC). Decisions made by the ERAC are then appealable to Franklin County Court of Appeals in Columbus.