By Nancy Allen
A Mercer County farm owner will be fined for building a manure storage/cattle feeding barn on his property and having 200 more cattle than allowed, without first getting Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) permits.
The county's soil and water conservation district and Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) offices, which helped with technical aspects of the barn, have been told to contact ODA in the future if they do work for any state-permitted farms, said Kevin Elder, director of ODA's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program.
Elder said the barn was built at JP Poultry, 8704 state Route 274, in Marion Township, owned by Jim and Pam Fleck. The farm is allowed to have up to 200 cattle, in addition to 410,000 chickens.
A proposed fine of $98,491 was issued against the Flecks in June, but that amount will be reduced when a settlement is reached, hopefully by the end of this month, Elder said. In exchange for reducing the fine, the Flecks already have applied to the ODA for a permit to install (PTI) for the manure storage/cattle feeding barn and for a permit to operate (PTO) for the whole farm, Elder said.
Drafts of the permits will go out for public comment after the settlement is resolved, he added. "He didn't even know he needed to apply for a permit to install the building," Elder said. "They are allowed to add additional (manure) storage of up to 10 percent of their manure capacity without a permit. The facility they built is for 12 or more percent."
The Flecks were allowed to keep the additional 200 cattle on their farm, because they have applied for a new permit, ODA spokeswoman Melanie Wilt said this morning.
Elder said an ODA inspector doing a routine inspection of the ODA-permitted farm on Feb. 9, 2005, found the manure storage/cattle feeding barn and 400 cattle. Fleck was building the manure barn for chicken and cattle manure with the intent to broker the chicken manure off the farm and store the cattle manure for use by himself and relatives, Elder said.
In June of this year, ODA became aware of a calf barn being built near the farm to house 200 calves. Elder said initially there was some confusion about whether the calf barn was part of Jim and Pam Fleck's farm and subject to ODA livestock permitting rules, but ODA since has determined the calf barn is a separate farm owned by Josh Fleck, Jim and Pam's son. Josh Fleck's 200-calf operation does not have the number of calves (1,000) to require an ODA permit, Elder said.
"Is this a big violation or issue, I think not," Elder said. "But you have to make sure you do things properly."
Of the Mercer soil and water conservation district and NRCS offices, Elder said it was an oversight on their part that was addressed by the ODA many months ago.
"If anyone says the ODA isn't watching, they're wrong. We are," Elder said.