By Nancy Allen
It may be another week or more before Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Fred Dailey decides whether to issue permits for Ross-Medford Farms LLC, a proposed 1.28 million layer hen operation in Darke County.
ODA spokeswoman Deborah Abbott said Thursday that changes are being made to the permits based on recent comments from unhappy neighbors living near the farm. She refused to discuss the changes in detail, saying it would be "premature" to do so.
Brian Winner, one of the farm owners, told The Daily Standard that they are working with ODA officials to make changes to the permits to address neighbor concerns, particularly with the aeration method that will be used in the egg wash water storage pond.
Winner said they now have proposed using seven mechanical aerators in the pond, instead of one wind-driven aerator as was originally proposed in the permits. He also defended the proposed mega farm.
"I think us partners have consistently showed us to be responsible neighbors and this won't change," Winner said on Thursday. "If we get granted the permits, we can prove ourselves." Other owners of the farm are Dave Winner of North Star, Kevin Winner of Rossburg, Ralph, Chris and Randy Rindler, all of St. Henry, and Kasey and Ronald Schwieterman of Fort Recovery. They have asked ODA to approve permits to expand the farm from one barn with 183,000 birds to a total of five barns that can hold 1.28 million chickens. They also are seeking to build an egg processing plant, manure storage building and a 2 million gallon egg wash water storage pond.
They have proposed using aerators to reduce odors in the pond to get around a 2,000-foot ODA setback rule.
ODA rules state a storage pond cannot be within 2,000 feet of any residences, but exceptions can be made if "proven technology" (in this case aerators) can be used to reduce odors from the pond.
Pam Broering, 5427 North Star-Fort Loramie Road, who lives near the farm and has adamantly opposed its expansion, says ODA officials incorrectly calculated the number of residents living within the setback area. ODA recorded four homes; Broering claims seven. Abbott would not comment on that issue.
Abbott said ODA will provide all members of the public who submitted written comments or who spoke during a May 20 hearing on the expansion with a written ODA summary responding to their questions. ODA also will release a public notice on whether or not the permits have been approved at the same time.
Abbott said although ODA has never denied a mega farm permit since it took over the permitting process from the Ohio EPA almost two years ago, public comments have resulted in changes to permits before they become final.