A local hog farmer has found himself “in the muck” with a group of neighbors and concerned citizens following his recent application with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to build a pig barn in the vicinity of State Road 46 and County Road 950 West.
Robert Pumphrey, owner and operator of Ag Production Enterprises, filed his application with IDEM March 15. According to documents, that application is on track to be approved June 15.
Decatur County farmer Tom Warner, a nearby neighbor of Pumphrey’s, is adamantly opposed to Pumphrey expanding his hog operation so close to the Warner property.
Warner told the Daily News he owns the 55-acre Middle Fork Lake.
“I’ve got camping and fishing on my property,” he explained. “We get a lot of city people who come here to camp and fish, watch the deer and enjoy nature.”
Warner’s fear is that the smell of a hog operation like the one proposed will drive away his campers and fishers.
“His [Pumphrey] hog operation will just destroy me,” Warner said. “This hog barn might make him money, but it’ll destroy a significant part of my income.”
He added, “He’s got hog farms all over the county; why he chose to build here, on a recreational lake, is beyond me.”
For his part, Pumphrey said he was very much taken off guard by the level of opposition to his proposed barn.
Ag Production Enterprises already operates four such barns in the area, all identical to the one proposed, he said. Three operate in western Decatur County near Milford, with the fourth in Rush County near the Decatur County line.
The oldest of those operations is 10 years old, Pumphrey said.
Additionally, Pumphrey said that he’s been farming hogs in Decatur County for 30 years, and has, at various points, operated somewhere between 12 and 15 other hog barns in the county.
In all that time, he said he’s never experienced “push back” like this current proposed barn has caused. His Rushville operation, he conceded, did face a degree of opposition when it first began operation, but he added that an expansion of the facility five years ago led to zero complaints or protests.
“We have several dozen neighbors at the other locations,” he said. “They’re all very similar in regards to the housing; it’s no more or less dense at the proposed location.”
Pumphrey said concerns about the smell are overblown
“With the distance and direction of the proposed barn,” he said, “the smell won’t be significant.”
At an informational public meeting on the matter held by the IDEM Thursday night in Hartsville, IDEM Public Information Officer Barry Sneed seemed to agree with that assessment.
Sneed described barns like the one Pumphrey’s proposing as “cookie cutter” in regards to design (Pumphrey said 40 such barns have been built in Indiana in the last five years). Buildings of such design, Sneed said, and well-sealed and designed so that smell is only a factor when conditions are just right.
Sneed also pointed out that IDEM doesn’t regulate smell.
“It’s just not possible,” he explained, “to pinpoint where a smell’s coming from, so it’s a factor we can’t and don’t regulate.”
Asked what actions IDEM might take if it received several complaints regarding the odor from a particular operation, Sneed said such calls would lead to an inspection.
Warner sounded like a man already waiting by the phone.
If this barn goes in, he said, “I’ll be playing watchdog.”
“Every time he [Pumphrey] makes a mistake,” he continued. “I’ll call and report him. I’ll be really on him and will be contacting the authorities.”
Pumphrey didn’t sound terribly worried about such possibilities. Although he didn’t respond directly to Warner’s charges, he said Ag Production Enterprises has, “never been cited by IDEM. There have been no discharges, citations or enforcement actions against us.”
Pumphrey also expressed willingness to talk with his neighbors about any concerns.
To date, he’s spoken with about a half-dozen, he said, some in person, others over the phone. Others, he said, “aren’t very comfortable talking to me directly.”
He welcomed anyone who’s concerned about the proposed barn, to “come out and tour our existing buildings and experience, firsthand, some of the things they’re concerned about.” He further offered to give concerned citizens multiple tours, allowing them “to experience the operation in all weather conditions.”
“I want to point out,” he added, “that my own house is surrounded by similar buildings. I’m closer to hog buildings than any of the neighbors will be to the proposed building. I welcome people to come out and see what this project is all about.”
At earliest, Pumphrey expects his newest pig barn up and running by late fall. He acknowledged though, that the current backlash could delay that timeline by “three or four months.”
He explained, “We’ve left a huge window to get this in place, so we’re not pressed for time; we want this process to play out and for everyone to get all their questions answered.”
He conceded that some might not be completely satisfied with the answers.
Unless plans for the barn’s construction are cancelled, Warner is likely to be counted among that group.
In addition to his other concerns, he also worries about where the water for Pumphrey’s new operation will come from.
According to documents, the proposed barn will house some 4,400 pigs.
“He’s going to need a lot of water for that many pigs,” Warner said. “I don’t know where it’s all going to come from.”
Even if the barn goes in, Warner will keep his lake open, but doubts people will keep coming. In fact, some of his regular campers, he said, have already said they’ll go elsewhere if the pig barn is built.
“Would you want to go camping next to a hog lagoon?” He posed. “I wouldn’t.”
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011