Jackson County commissioners have begun discussions about tightening regulations governing the location of large-scale livestock farms.
A draft ordinance, presented to commissioners by county attorney Susan Bevers, is part of an attempt to find what commissioners president Jerry Hounshel describes as a “happy medium” between the farm community and the general public.
“I think a lot of people would agree that our regulations are not tight enough,” Hounshel said.
The proposal to amend present land use regulations concerning confined animal feeding operations would require more acreage to house large livestock farms and limit their proximity to each other and to neighboring homes.
Bevers has researched the issue and found many other Hoosier counties have tighter regulations and that regulations vary greatly.
“We’re less restrictive than Bartholomew County, but Decatur County, which is another farming community, has about the same regulations,” Bevers said.
County Building Commissioner Mike Weir said he has not researched zoning ordinances in surrounding counties but there are at least a couple that are not as restrictive as Jackson County.
“Washington and Lawrence counties don’t have any zoning,” Weir said. “Bedford does, but the county does not.”
Bartholomew County’s ordinance governing confined animal feeding operations requires a minimum lot size of no less than five acres; setbacks from property lines for such farms including their waste disposal units to a minimum of 100 feet; and minimum distance of at least a half-mile from a single-family residential or multifamily residential zoning district.
Bill Klakamp, a county enforcement officer in that county, said the issue has never really come up.
“We don’t have any as large as you do,” Klakamp said.
Jackson County’s present regulations require at least three acres for a commercial facility and 300-foot setbacks. A “farm, confinement feeding” may not be closer than 300 feet to an existing residence or platted lot.
The proposed regulations would increase the minimum size for a commercial facility to 10 acres, setbacks to 500 feet and the distance to an existing residence or platted lot to one mile.
Bevers said she prepared the ordinance with the help of Commissioner Matt Reedy, whose district includes the more rural western part of the county.
Reedy said he has been researching the issue since he assumed the District 3 seat on Jan. 1, 2011, and began focusing on it after a Hamilton Township family proposed a confined animal feeding operation for hogs late in 2012. That request was later withdrawn because of opposition.
Reedy’s brother, Greg Reedy, and his mother, Ruth Reedy, have attended recent hearings for a proposed 8,000-head wean-to-finish hog operation northwest of Brownstown. The Reedys have neighboring homes about 1.25 miles northeast of the two-barn, 4,000-head operation proposed by James Lucas of Freetown and his son, Matthew Lucas.
The Reedys both expressed concerns about whether it would meet county and state regulations or should be approved.
Matt Reedy said he wants to make sure the county is doing enough to regulate the placement of confined animal feeding operations.
“You will never see me squash small business, but you’ll see me trying to make sure things are done right,” Reedy said.
Reshaping zoning laws
Bevers said if commissioners eventually approve the ordinance, which would amend county code, the measure would have to go to the plan commission. That nine-member body would then have to conduct a public hearing before voting on it and could make changes to it before returning it to commissioners for final approval.
The plan commission is presently taking a broader look at revising county code, while commissioners mainly wanted to address one issue — the closeness of such proposed operations to residential areas, Bevers said.
“Some counties have moratoriums in place, but I don’t sense our commissioners want to do that,” she said.
Weir said he and the plan commission have been looking at updating the county’s zoning code, but the work has become sidetracked at times.
“I’ve been working on it for four years or so,” Weir said. “I think commissioners just want us to move a little faster on this.”
If the ordinance eventually wins approval, it would not apply to any of the existing large-scale livestock operations in the county, including eight hog farms and Rose Acre Farms’ operations in the northern part of the county, Bevers said.
It would also not apply to a special exception that the Lucases are requesting.
“They would be grandfathered,” Hounshel said.
In 2012, two local farmers applied for special exceptions to build hog barns, one near Brownstown and another in Hamilton Township. Both applications were withdrawn because of public opposition from neighboring property owners and others.
Concerns cited about those projects included odor and potential effects on public health, the environment and property values.
Hounshel said commissioners understand the concerns of residential property owners.
“We understand the farmers’ views, too,” he said.
About the proposal
The proposed amendments to the present ordinance would regulate confined animal feeding operations in several ways.
One of the biggest changes would ban a confined feeding operation from locating closer than 2.5 miles to any structure where 25 or more people meet on a regular basis.
Examples could include a church, school or a conservation club, Hounshel said.
The proposed amendments also would limit a confined animal feeding operation to one unit per 20 acres to address the density of such farms. A unit would be considered one stand-alone structure and its waste management area.
Craig Klinge, 43, operates two 4,000-head hog barns on his farm south of Seymour in Grassy Fork Township. The proposed ordinance raises some concerns for the rural Crothersville man.
“Who’s going to determine what constitutes a meeting place?” Klinge asked. “Someone could come up and say they have a meeting at their house once a month. They’re going to have to better define that.”
‘That’s pretty extreme’
Klinge said he sees no problem with keeping barns at least 500 feet away from homes. His house — a red brick home built around the same time as his hog operation — is about 1,000 feet from his barns.
The proposal requiring 10 acres for construction of a confined feeding operation versus 3 acres shouldn’t be a problem either, Klinge said. He called that reasonable.
The 2.5-mile distance from a meeting place is another matter.
“That’s pretty extreme,” Klinge said. “Where I’m at, I think I’m in the country, but 2.5 miles puts me to Dudleytown. You’re going to be overlapping everything out there.”
Klinge said farmers should be allowed to do their business — grow crops and raise livestock — in areas zoned for agriculture. Instead, he said, it seems such areas are being squeezed more and more.
“Where do we go?” he asked. “I’ll tell you where we go — we start depending upon other countries for our food.”
The two barns on Klinge’s farm went into operation almost 10 years ago.
“It’s a been a good income for us,” Klinge said. “I did it with my kids in mind with the thought of it helping support their college education and that it may provide a spot for one of the kids to come back and be a part of our farming operation.”
His son is a senior in high school and his daughter is an eighth-grader.
“It’s not been negative. It’s been good for us,” Klinge said of the farm’s partnership with Seymour-based Jackson-Jennings Co-op.
Under the agreement, Klinge and several other farmers in the county build, maintain and own the confined feeding operation barns. The co-op in turn supplies the hogs and feed needed to finish the animals from early-wean to market stages and pays the farmers to rent the space and supply the labor to operate them.
Klinge said he would prefer to operate under the business model of 20 years ago — smaller operations and smaller barns. But the cost of doing business and the demand for lower-cost food drives the shift to larger, confined farming operations, he said.
Today’s model better protects the environment while also producing more meat at a lower cost for consumers, he added.
“If I stayed in business with the same model from 25 years ago, we’d have to have (to be paid) two to three times more per head than what we get now,” Klinge said.
Loss of property values and threat to public safety are among concerns often cited by opponents of confined animal feeding operations.
Klinge said he cannot speak for other areas near such farms, but he said the experience with his barns show that the operation is not affecting nearby home building or values.
“Two homes have went up within a half-mile of our operation within last two years,” he said. “I don’t think we drive the housing market down, but I know that’s a fear some people have.”
‘High cost to society’
Joe Bradley of Brownstown, who has spoken in opposition to recent confined animal feeding operations, including Lucas’ proposal, said while it would be his preference that the county ban additional confined feeding operations, he was encouraged to hear county commissioners are at least working to provide tighter regulations on them.
In August 2012, Bradley asked commissioners to consider declaring a moratorium on confined feeding operations in the county until comprehensive regulations were established and enacted.
“Back then we had information that at least 12 area farmers were contemplating moving forward with CAFO construction,” Bradley said. “That request for a moratorium was denied.”
Bradley said 18 months ago, he did not know anything about such large-scale hog farms.
“But now, in my opinion, the low cost of pork at the grocery store comes at a very high cost to society in terms of property values, air pollution and health issues,” Bradley said. “I hope that other residents, town people and farmers alike, will truly appreciate the threats that these operations are to communities and residents everywhere and make their voices heard as they say ‘enough is enough.’”
Hounshel said the proposed ordinance is on the agenda for the commissioners’ meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. He does not anticipate that commissioners will vote on it then, however.