Bill gives state reins on CAFOs

A bill that would give more power to the state in deciding the fate of confined animal feeding operations and where they can be built received a hearing Monday at the Statehouse.

Senate Bill 249, introduced by the Agriculture Committee, would not allow counties and other local governments to adopt any rules more restrictive than state laws for building livestock structures in areas zoned for agricultural use, according to The Associated Press.

This proposal is sponsored by committee chairwoman Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg. She said it addresses concerns that many counties have taken local action to prevent the construction of livestock buildings.

“Animal agriculture is a vital aspect of Indiana’s economy with $3 billion in annual sales,” Leising said in a statement on Monday. “Currently, livestock facilities must meet Indiana Department of Environmental Management regulations, but construction may be stopped by local governments.”

She said some counties have passed moratoriums and others have created restrictive ordinances.

Jackson County is one of those counties where a new ordinance was enacted and a moratorium has been put in place. Commissioners will discuss ending that moratorium March 15.

Gary McDonald, a Vernon Township resident, said he’s not in favor of the proposed bill as it would take away local rights.

Last year, McDonald was one of many Jackson County residents who attended county meetings to oppose a Seymour family’s proposal to build a 4,000-head hog operation near Dudleytown. Those opposed to it said they had health concerns and were worried about odors and the effect such operations have on real estate values.

“Local decisions need to be made locally, so we can agree or disagree to work it out,” McDonald said.

McDonald said he’s worried if those powers are given to the state, then residents in favor of or opposed to a proposed CAFO would have to travel to Indianapolis to voice their opinions.

On Monday, he was faced with that particular problem because he wanted to attend the hearing at the Statehouse in Indianapolis but decided against it because of the potential issues with a winter storm that left behind ice and snow in some parts of the state, including the Indianapolis area.

The same situation could happen if this bill passes and locals miss out on being involved because they can’t physically be in attendance at the state capital, he said.

“That’s a major concern,” McDonald said.

Jackson County Commissioner Jerry Hounshel said he would rather see the control remain with local officials.

“I’ve always felt like local leaders know the needs of local people,” Hounshel said. “We know the layout of the county, especially when it comes to CAFOs. It seems to be working out.”

Hounshel said that, if the bill is passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, county officials will deal with it.

In 2014, the county approved two requests from local families to build a CAFO in the county.

James Lucas and his son, Matthew, received approval in December from the Jackson County Board of Zoning Appeals to build two 4,000-head hog barns on 159 acres at 1502 W. County Road 300N in Brownstown Township.

Leah and Kyle Broshears of Seymour received approval in October to build one northwest of county roads 1050E and 200S between Dudleytown and Uniontown.

Both sites were zoned for agriculture usage, but concentrated animal feeding operations require special exceptions.

A group of homeowners living near the proposed

operation, including McDonald, have since filed a lawsuit asking a judge to reverse

the decision.

The county commissioners voted 2-1 on Nov. 18 to enact an ordinance regulating odors, size and setbacks of CAFOs. The rules will not affect the plans for the Lucas or Broshears operations because they were already in the works.

Joe Bradley, who was on a committee to help update the county’s ordinance, said “assuming that a balance of agricultural and community interests could be established,” he would be in favor of expanding the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s responsibilities and resources.

Currently, IDEM regulates some aspects of CAFOs, such as setbacks, manure handling and application and stormwater runoff. It does not regulate the impact of CAFOs on property values, public health, odors and other factors because those are left to the local county zoning authorities.

Bradley said expanding IDEM’s oversight would set uniform standards to protect the public by regulating further factors, based on both science and the impact CAFOs have on property values and public health.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said he wants to hear all sides of the proposed measure before forming an opinion.

He encouraged residents to understand that the legislative process is in-depth and lengthy and changes are likely to be made to the wording on any measure.

In other words, the proposed bill could be amended in time or even nixed.

“This is a long process that can take months, so it has a long way to go,” he said.

Rep. Lucas said now is the time for residents interested in the issue to follow updates as they come with the bill.

Leising said during Monday’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture that she asked for the bill to be held so that further discussion on the issue can occur.

Pull Quote

“I’ve always felt like local leaders know the needs of local people. We know the layout of the county, especially when it comes to CAFOs. It seems to be working out.”

Jackson County Commissioner Jerry Hounshel, on Senate Bill 249, which would have the state set regulations for animal feeding operations

At a glance

Senate Bill 249:

Prohibits a county, municipality or township from adopting an ordinance, resolution, rule, policy or other requirement that prohibits a person who meets certain conditions from building or repairing an agricultural building or structure that is or will be used for livestock.