By Nancy Allen
A hearing has been scheduled for the week of Feb. 7 before the Environmental Review Appeals Commission regarding the expansion of a Darke County poultry farm to 1.28 million laying hens.
The hearing is equivalent to a trial and was scheduled after neighbors Ron and Pam Broering appealed the Ohio Department of Agriculture's decision to grant the permits that allow the farm, Ross-Medford Farms, LLC, to expand to a mega farm.
The Broering home and six others are within 2,000 feet of a proposed 2 million gallon eggwash/manure lagoon to be built on the farm, located two miles west of North Star. They say the farm will stink and cause further fly infestations at the site, which already has one barn that can hold 183,000 chickens.
The Broerings appeared for a prehearing on Thursday before the Environmental Review Appeals Commission in Columbus. Jack VanKley, the Columbus attorney representing the seven farmers who want to expand the farm, requested that the Feb. 7 hearing be set.
"We requested that a hearing be held as soon as possible because we believe we have done everything we can do at this point to address neighbor concerns," VanKley said Thursday, adding that he has handled similar cases for the past 25 years. 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. The owners have repeatedly promised to be good neighbors and stewards and run a clean operation.
The Broerings, who so far have been representing themselves, say they will go forward with the appeal and plan to consult with an attorney.
They are appealing the permits on several grounds, including that aerators have never been use as a proven technology for reducing odors in an eggwash/manure lagoon and that more than one of the owners have other, larger tracts of land available to build on. In their appeal, they ask that the farm be scaled down to 800,000 birds and that the eggwash be shipped out daily instead of being stored in a lagoon.
VanKley said he does not believe there is much chance for a settlement between the two parties at this point, because Ross-Medford Farms already has "agreed to all the concessions that are feasible."
VanKley noted that several changes were made to the permits before the ODA approved them, including adding seven mechanical aerators to reduce odor in the lagoon instead of the original wind-driven windmill in the pond that the farmers first proposed.
VanKley said he took exception with the Broerings' opposition to the eggwash/manure lagoon, noting that the Broerings have a dairy manure lagoon 300 feet from their home. He further argued the eggwash liquid is so dilute, containing only traces of manure, and would not produce a strong odor anyway.
"Apparently their own lagoon doesn't seem to be a problem for them, but an eggwash lagoon located downwind from them is objectionable," he said.
Pam Broering this morning responded that their 900,000 gallon dairy manure lagoon is much smaller than the proposed 2 million gallon lagoon at Ross-Medford.
"The whole thing is too big," Ron Broering said of the farm.
He continued that the main thing they object to is the ODA allowing the lagoon within 2,000 feet of several homes, which is against ODA policy and was allowed when the farmers agreed to the aerators.
The Broerings also said they are upset that the farmers want to be added to the appeal. Currently, the Broerings have filed the appeal only against the ODA for issuing the permits. If the farmers are added to the appeal, then they could defend the farm expansion.
"I found yesterday upsetting, with their attorney there," Pam Broering said this morning. "Our issue is with ODA and the decision they made -- not with them (the farmers). What we are appealing is how ODA handled things."
VanKley said that typically when appeals of this nature are filed, they are filed against both the ODA and the farm. He characterized the Broerings' move as an attempt to deny his clients the right to defend themselves.
The appeal process began after ODA in June approved permits to allow the construction of four new layer houses capable of housing 288,000 hens each, a covered 50,000-square-foot manure storage building and the lagoon.
The Ohio Department of Development this week approved a $221,400 grant for Darke County to widen 9,974 linear feet of McFeeley-Petry Road that would lead to the farm. The grant was not to purchase machinery and equipment as was incorrectly reported in a story earlier this week in The Daily Standard.
The farmers, in conjunction with Fort Recovery Equity Egg Processors, plan to build a 30,000-square-foot, egg processing facility on the land.