The prospect of a large industrial hog farm being built near Steuben County lakes has raised questions about the potential threat to those prized natural resources. Indiana Department of Environmental Management officials have scheduled a public meeting in an attempt to address citizens concerns, but state regulators jurisdiction over large agricultural operations is shockingly limited.
IDEM looks only at water quality, said Kim Ferraro, staff attorney and director of water and agricultural policy at the Hoosier Environmental Council. It does not weigh air pollution, odors, traffic congestion, road damage, land use or zoning.
People come hoping to have IDEM address their questions and concerns and walk out only being told IDEM doesnt regulate those issues, Ferraro said. So, they sometimes end up walking away more frustrated.
That doesnt mean that people shouldnt show up, she added. If people show up en masse, it may sway local officials.
Barry Sneed, an IDEM spokesman, said Steuben County officials must approve zoning for the project. The state agency only approves the confined animal feeding operation permit.
The land already is zoned for agricultural use, but because more than 300 head of hogs are proposed, a special exception is required from the county.
Keith Werner, a third-generation farmer, recently created K and D Contract Pork LLC and wants to build a 4,800-head confined animal feeding operation for hogs on a 60-acre parcel. The property, located at County Roads 200 North and 600 West, is close to several popular lakes.
If nothing else, people will leave the meeting knowing more than when they came, Sneed said. We just uphold the statutes and regulations as they exist. If it falls within the rules, we approve it, and if it doesnt, we dont.
But that is one of Ferraros concerns.
All these facilities have a direct impact on water, whether its through direct discharge or through runoff or groundwater contamination, Ferraro said. The regulatory system – the rules and laws in place for CAFOs – more serve the interest of CAFOs than they serve the public interests or the environment, and they are very hard to defeat.
Werners proposed plan includes an under-floor manure pit with a 380-day storage capacity. The manure and wastewater would be used on his cropland as fertilizer. He lives on a farm about a mile south of the proposed CAFO site.
There is already one CAFO, as well as three confined feeding operations, in Steuben County. According to IDEM, a dairy CFO is anything between 300 and 700 cows and a hog CFO is 600 to 2,500 pigs. Livestock operations exceeding those numbers are classified as CAFOs.
I just authored a bill on regional waste districts because we want to protect those bodies of water, said Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, who lives on Lake James. Here we may be allowing more pollutants than just some people who may have failing septic systems.
Zent said he doesnt want to infringe on the farmers property rights, but also points out that the lake area has heightened concerns about water quality.
The law doesnt specifically protect groundwater, Zent said. We may need to tweak the law.
He said Steuben County is heavily dependent on the property taxes from lake property owners, and the economy gets a significant boost from tourism. If you get a bunch of homes on a smelly lake where no one wants to get in the water, youve got a problem, Zent said.
Tom Danford, spokesman for the Steuben County Lakes Environmental Consortium, a group formed because of the proposed CAFO, echoed Zents concerns. To me its logical if you want to protect our lakes from humans, by golly, youd want to protect them from animals. Animals produce something like three to four times the volume of manure that a human does.
We feel we have a very treasured natural resource up here. We want to protect those resources. We want our lakes to remain the jewel and prize that we were graced with. Im sure the applicant wants the same thing.
Sneed is right when he says environmental laws are followed by most people. It is rare for a farmer, who depends on the health of the land for his livelihood, to flagrantly ignore IDEM rules.
The problem is the state may not have enough rules governing CAFO operations.