By Nancy Allen
Neighbors of a proposed 2,100-head mega dairy in Hopewell Township on Tuesday asked state agriculture officials about manure management, fly and rodent control and possible problems with surrounding private wells.
They also wanted to know who would run the dairy since the name on the state's permit application has changed.
About 60 people attended the two-hour subdued informational meeting in Celina led by Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) officials. The ODA will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Mercer County Central Services Building in Celina to take oral and written comments on the proposed Hopewell Dairy LLC. The farm is planned to be located on 64 acres at the northeast corner of Tama and Township Line roads.
Albertus DeBruyn of the Netherlands, the original applicant for the dairy, will work with the livestock, but not the management or environmental aspects of the operation, said Kevin Elder, executive director for the ODA's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program.
DeBruyn originally applied for the permit from the state, which is needed to start a mega dairy. He then withdrew his name and the name of J.C.J. Van Der Meijden of the Netherlands was added. Elder did not say at the meeting why DeBruyn withdrew his name. Many of the questions posed by the crowd revolved around background checks on the owners.
Elder explained the checks are done to determine whether the applicant has a significant history of noncompliance, including the history of operations in other states or countries.
The background check for Van Der Meijden was passed, but Elder did not say whether or not DeBruyn passed a background check. ODA has issued a draft permit to Van Der Meijden for the farm to operate .
Answering questions about private wells, Elder said ODA has never documented any problems with well contamination associated with a livestock operation where the wells were constructed and maintained properly. The amount of water that will be needed to operate the dairy is not significant compared with the overall precipitation and aquifer storage and would not result in nearby wells running dry, he said.
He said ODA rules for permitted facilities are based mostly on the federal Clean Water Act, but they go even beyond that in strictness.
The permit to operate includes plans for insect and rodent control, manure management and application, management of dead livestock and emergencies such as manure spills or discharges, a fire, power outage or catastrophic mortality.
Ohio law considers Ohio farms with more than 699 mature dairy cows an industrial or mega farm, and as such are required to receive ODA permits to operate, agree to inspections and have written plans for dealing with large amounts of manure.
Elder stressed the project is not a done deal and that the current draft permit is where many changes can be made based on public comments.
"This is not a rubber stamp," he said. "We'll do everything we can if the director approves this project to ensure things are done right. The director expects agriculture to operate in an environmentally-friendly manner."
County officials also have shown interest in this farm.
Mercer County Community Development Director Larry Stelzer on Tuesday said the county will either seek Community Development Block Grant funds or create a tax-increment finance (TIF) district to fund improvements to the road leading to the dairy to accommodate increased truck traffic. A TIF district directs taxes raised through real estate improvements back into infrastructure, including roads.
Interested persons have until 5 p.m. Aug. 31 to respond in writing or e-mail to the ODA's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program office on the draft permits.
Written comments can be sent to the ODA's Livestock Permitting program at 8995 E. Main St., Reynoldsburg, OH 43068. Call the office at 614-387-0470 for more information.
The permit application is available for public viewing at the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District office, located in the central services building in Celina.