State ag rep attends dairy opponents meeting

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Concerned citizens of Madison County and surrounding areas protested a proposed 5,428-cow concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) during an informational presentation hosted by Active Citizens for Responsible Environmentalism (ACRE) on Jan. 9 at Choctaw Lodge.

The large-scale dairy farm is awaiting permit approval from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). The operation is slated to be built on what is known locally as Orleton Farm, owned by the van Bakel family from Holland. The 5,290 acres are located on the north and south sides of state Route 29, west of state Route 38 outside of London. The property lies in the Darby Watershed, 700 feet from the Village of Plumwood, and 1.5 miles from Lake Choctaw.  

The dairy poses potential health and environmental risks for residents, said Alan Garcia, a spokesman for Darby Creek Matters, a group of citizens who oppose the dairy.

“In our opinion, it is reckless to approve the construction of a facility that emits…toxic gasses and generates 280 million pounds of manure and sewage so close to Lake Choctaw, Plumwood, and Monroe Elementary School.”

Dairy CAFO’s commonly fertilize crops with waste from the confined cattle, requiring the application of tons of liquefied manure to area fields. To facilitate this procedure, the operation will use lagoons to store and treat the waste through bacterial action, prior to applying it to the land.  

“Imagine the Madison County Fairgrounds walled in and filled 16 feet deep with liquefied cow manure,” said Garcia, in an attempt to assign perspective to the potential size of the van Bakel lagoons, which are expected to span 46 feet in surface area and measure up to 16 feet in depth.

“Based on EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) emission models, a 5,000-cow dairy can release as much as 200 tons of ammonia gas and 10.5 tons of hydrogen sulfide gas on an annual basis,” Garcia said.  

The gasses are reported to cause respiratory distress and mental deficiencies when ingested in large doses. Garcia noted that Monroe Elementary School, part of the Jonathan Alder Local School District, is located 1,694 feet upwind of the northern-most part of Orleton Farm.

Those who oppose the dairy also expressed concern about the potential impact on the area’s available water supply. Numerous geotechnical wells, drilled by the state in order to survey the subsurface and bedrock to create geological maps, populate Orleton Farm, allowing the potential for sewage to seep into the area’s aquifer, if capped improperly.

Subsurface tiles also create the potential for water contamination. Garcia said that if the sewage is land-applied and hits the tiles, it can quickly move into the ditches and ultimately work into Little Darby Creek.

The likelihood that the environment and surrounding residents will experience effects of the dairy CAFO depends on how well-regulated the operation remains after implementation, if approved.

Kevin Elder, executive director for the Livestock and Environmental Permitting Program within the Ohio Department of Agriculture, explained the process for regulating a large-scale dairy operation.

“We inspect the facilities if they’re permitted, we inspect construction, and then we inspect twice a year—every six months—to make sure they stay in compliance,” he said.

“The manure of this facility will be used to replace commercial fertilizers. It will be kept in balance with what the soils need. The acres at the facility… and the animals will be basically balanced off, or they will have to export manure to another farm, but right now, the tests show they are balanced.”

At present, Orleton Farm enjoys little regulation. If implemented, a dairy CAFO requires soil testing, manure testing, and consistent and detailed records of how much manure is supplied to ensure compliance with ODA standards. These regulations are not established for small or medium-sized farms.

“Right now…they can put any amount of commercial fertilizer or manure they want to on it…There doesn’t have to be a livestock farm for them to use manure.  They could haul manure from any farm and use it,” Elder said.

Despite regulatory increases that accompany a dairy CAFO, Garcia highlighted past instances where compliance regulations were ignored by Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development Corp., which is affiliated with Orleton Farms LLC.

“The owners’ existing and sponsored mega-dairy operations have a multi-year history of pollution discharges and court orders brought against them by Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan state attorney generals and at least 15 actions initiated by the U.S. EPA,” Garcia said.

The ODA is still waiting to receive a complete application from Orleton Farms LLC.  The time frame for a final decision of approval or disapproval depends on how quickly the applicant responds to the questions and concerns proposed by the ODA after an initial review.

“It’s not going to be tomorrow,” said Elder. “It’s going to be when they get a complete application.”

When the application is deemed complete, additional meetings for public comment will be held before a final application is processed. The time between an application draft and a final application can last several months.

Those seeking further information or involvement are encouraged to visit the ODA Web site at www.ohioagriculture.gov or the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) Web site at www.theoec.org.

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