By Nancy Allen
A Darke County couple is appealing a decision by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to allow a layer hen farm near their home to expand to 1.28 million birds.
Ron and Pam Broering, 5427 North Star-Fort Loramie Road, filed the appeal against Ross-Medford farms, located west of North Star.
The Broerings live within 2,000 feet of a proposed 2 million gallon eggwash/manure lagoon to be built on the farm. They say the farm will stink and cause further fly infestations at the farm, which already has one barn and 183,000 chickens.
ODA last June approved the necessary permits for Ross-Medford Farms to build four new layer houses capable of housing 288,000 layer hens each, a covered 50,000-square-foot manure storage building and the lagoon.
The Broerings are appealing the permit to build on several grounds, including that aerators have never been used as a proven technology for reducing odors in the lagoon and that more than one of the owners have other, larger tracts of land available to build on. They ask that the size of the farm be scaled down to 800,000 layer hens and that the eggwash/manure water be shipped out daily instead of being stored in a lagoon.
A prehearing is set for Thursday in Columbus before the Environmental Review Appeals Commission to determine if there is enough merit to schedule a regular hearing.
Mary Oxley, the executive secretary for the commission, said the purpose of a prehearing is to discuss the issues at hand and give both sides the opportunity to settle the case. There could be more than one prehearing.
"At the final prehearing, if they don't think they can settle, a briefing and hearing schedule would be established," Oxley said.
The three-member commission makes a ruling on the case, and if either party does not agree with the commission's decision, the case could be appealed to a court of appeals. It could be appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, she said.
The farm 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. Brian Winner, who has commented for a past story, did not return a call seeking comment this morning, but the owners have issued statements promising to be good neighbors and stewards and run a clean operation.
The permit for Ross-Medford Farms was the third mega farm permit issued by the ODA last June for West Central Ohio farms, including two in Mercer County. The only one drawing opposition was Ross-Medford Farms.
More than 80 people attended a meeting last May objecting to the farm expansion. Fourteen people spoke out against it while one woman spoke in favor of it.
The Broerings are one of seven neighbors who live within a 2,000-foot setback area from the proposed eggwash lagoon.
Pam Broering said she is fed up with a string of misinformation and inaccuracies she claims has been perpetrated by the ODA and the partners who want to expand the farm.
When granting the permits to Ross-Medford Farms, the ODA for the first time relaxed a minimum setback rule. The rule states an eggwash/manure storage lagoon cannot be within 2,000 feet of any residences, but exceptions can be made if proven technology (in this case seven mechanical aerators) can be used to reduce odors from the pond.
At first, the ODA said there were four residences that were within the 2,000 feet, even though no aerial map was provided with the permit application, as is required by ODA rules.
The ODA has since admitted it erroneously reported there were four residences within 2,000 feet of the proposed lagoon and that there are in fact seven. The closest would be 1,150 feet from the lagoon.
"They (ODA) just took what the owners said, that there were four homes within the area, and they didn't even include a map," Pam Broering said. "Anyone can get a map from the county and figure that out. We did."
In the appeal, Pam Broering says the farmers have other ground to build on that would not break the 2,000 setback rule. Scaling back the farm to 800,000 birds also would not require the setback rule, she said.
The Ohio Department of Development on Monday announced that Darke County will receive a $221,400 Community Development Block Grant to assist Ross-Medford Farms with the expansion if the ODA permits are received. The farmers, in conjunction with Fort Recovery Equity Egg Processors, plan to build a 30,000-square-foot, egg-processing facility on the land and purchase machinery and equipment. Grant funds also would be used to widen 9,974-feet of McFeeley-Petry Road that runs to the farm.