Opponents of a Confined Feeding Operation (CFO) pig-barn proposed by Decatur County hog farmer Robert Pumphrey continue to argue the operation won’t be in the best interests of nearby residents or of the environment in general.
Pumphrey spoke to the Daily News about the issue for a June 8 article, arguing the proposed barn is identical in design to four others he operates in the area.
In that interview Pumphrey touted the fact that his company, Ag Production Enterprises, has, “never been cited by IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management). There have been no discharges, citations or enforcement actions against us.”
According to Staff Attorney and Director of Water Policy Kim Ferraro, of the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC), a lack of citations by IDEM is hardly proof that Humphrey’s operations are environmentally sound or neighbor friendly.
Ferraro, in fact, described IDEM as a nearly powerless government bureaucracy whose main function is to give “rubber-stamp approval” to proposed barns such as Pumphrey’s and then “get out of the way.”
“It’s just not adequately regulated at all,” she said. “And that’s on purpose. You may remember, when Governor Daniels first came into office, he promised to basically triple hog production in the state. He made good on that promise, increasing production by 5 times and basically charging IDEM with getting out of the way.”
She added, “Essentially, in order to get permission to operate a CFO under state law, developers like Pumphrey just have to submit some basic information; as long as they submit that information, the project is approved. There’s no real third-party or objective oversight to verify the validity of that information. There really isn’t any follow up or inspection to insure what’s being proposed is actually done.”
David Brinley with Eynon Law Group in Columbus became involved in the case because one of his legal assistants — Pam Crussal — lives “right across the road from the proposed location.”
Brinley went a step further than Ferraro in his assessment of IDEM, saying that, at a June 6 public meeting in Hartsville on the proposed barn, IDEM employees told him they never reject any application for any reason.
“One of the gentlemen from IDEM working on this particular project indicated he’d been working there about a year and a half and had seen roughly 50 projects,” Brinley said. “All of them were approved.”
Brinley further contended that IDEM employees at the June 6 meeting told him the agency basically “regulates nothing,” a fact he called both “concerning” and “somewhat ridiculous.”
“There has been no water or soil testing done by IDEM at the proposed site,” Brinley said. “which is amazing to me.”
IDEM, he further explained, claims that its concerned “about the water quality,” but “did nothing to test the water on the proposed site or on any of the neighboring properties or in the public streams.”
Asked why a government entity charged with guarding against environmental harm does no real regulation, Brinley explained that, to his understanding, because the proposed barn is designed to prevent environmental harm, IDEM is not obligated or even legally bound to conduct such testing.
“They don’t even consider that something could be done inappropriately or incorrectly,” Brinley added. “IDEM wanted to make a big point [at the public meeting] that they don’t regulate a whole lot. IDEM indicated that if people put together the right forms, they rubber stamp their approval. I got the opinion that even the right forms aren’t necessarily required.”
The Daily News attended the June 6 public meeting in Hartsville. At that meeting, IDEM Public Information Officer Barry Sneed described barns like the one Pumphrey’s proposing as “cookie cutter” in regards to design. Pumphrey himself said 40 such barns have been built in Indiana in the last five years. Buildings of such design, Sneed added, are well-sealed and designed so that smell is only a factor when conditions are just right.
Ferraro agreed that the type of barn being proposed is indeed common, but she disputed the notion that such facilities don’t pose problems in regards to odor.
“If memory serves,” she said, “they’re proposing a facility where the manure is being collected under the building. I think the concern there isn’t alleviated with respect to odors, because they still have to pump it out and land apply it to fields, and that’s what they’re proposing right next to where people live.”
She added that the HEC fields significant numbers of calls from people who live near such facilities. The callers complain “over and over again,” she said, that they’re “prisoners in their own homes. They can’t open their windows; they can’t be outside; the smell makes them nauseous; they’re sick and they’re kids can’t go out.”
She continued, “One of the big sources of odors is the land application of the waste itself and also the big fans that ventilate the barn because these animals will die if they don’t shoot the ammonia, the hydrogen sulfide and the methane that’s off-gassing from the internal ammonia system. They have to get rid of it or it’ll kill the animals. So this stuff is getting blown all over the community.”
According to Ferraro, part of the problem is in Indiana’s “meager regulations” regarding these type operations.
“But even under the existing meager regulations,” she said, “IDEM really falls down on the job even following through with those.”
For the June 8 article, the Daily News also spoke with Decatur County Farmer Tom Warner, who also lives nearby the proposed site and owns the 55-acre Middle Fork Lake on his property. Warner made clear his adamant opposition to the new barn, saying it would “destroy” his camping, swimming, fishing and hunting business. He also predicted the proposed pig-barn would pose a significant hazard to the environment, with a high probability of pig waste seeping into local groundwater.
Ferraro agreed that Warner’s fears of such environmental hazards are justified.
“I believe there’s sufficient scientific, medical, environmental and technical information,” she said, “and evidence from across the country, from universities and health institutions and local boards of health to justify his fears. I can provide you with any number of studies that have looked at this, not just in Indiana, but across the country that bare out the concerns in this case.”
Added Brinley, “These things wouldn’t be subject to at least SOME regulations if they didn’t pose some degree of potential hazard to the environment, to the groundwater, to public water in Indiana. Not to mention, just common sense stuff — odor, disease.”
Ferraro pointed out that since IDEM doesn’t do much true regulation, such responsibilities revert to local county governments.
On that score, she said, Decatur County is ahead of many other Indiana counties in that it DOES, in the least, have a “specific manure-management” ordinance in place, which imposes “some setbacks.”
“But it doesn’t apply to CFOs that existed before the ordinance was implemented,” she added. “And it’s pretty inadequate, as well, as far as addressing any specific harms that might arise once the facility starts operating.”
Brinley is thoroughly unimpressed with Decatur County ordinances.
“If you take a look at Decatur County’s local ordinances regarding waste management,” he said, “they defer to IDEM. So you have IDEM indicating it’s doing nothing, and Decatur County saying ‘we are abdicating our responsibilities and looking to IDEM to enforce these regulations,’ meaning both entities are doing nothing. That’s concerning to me.”