Impromptu CAFO Meeting Held in County Commissioner’s Office Monday Morning

By Crystal Howerton

 Thirty farmers and livestock producers in Knox County confronted the County Commission in the courthouse on Monday morning, September 17, 2007 regarding the proposed addition of a Class IV CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) to the county’s health ordinance.
Those citizens reacted strongly to an ad first appearing in the September 12, 2007 issue of The Edina Sentinel announcing that the Knox County Commission is in the process of adding a Class IV 300-1000 Animal Units (AU) to the Knox County Health Ordinance.  The notice specified a ½ mile set back distance from an occupied dwelling for a Class IV and a fee of $1,000 to recover the cost of inspection, investigation and review of the proposed application.  Also "NO regulated class of CAFO shall be located within two miles of a populated area".
First, Presiding Commissioner L.P. (Pete) Mayfield was vehement that the Commission is in the "process" of considering this addition to the health ordinance, emphasizing the word "process," before inviting questions.
Though several points were under consideration, the definition of a "populated area" was of great concern.  According to Rhett Hunziker, unofficial spokesman for the group, worded as such, a CAFO could not be in operation within a two-mile radius of "an area having at least 10 occupied dwellings not on CAFO property, as measured in a straight line from any of the occupied dwellings to the nearest CAFO confinement building, confinement lot, other confinement area, or water handling facility."
 The group was in agreement that this was an unreasonable distance, leaving very little room for expansion of current operations.  Having been brought to their attention, County Commissioners Mike McGinnis, Terry Marble and Mayfield consented to clarify a "populated area" in this instance as 10 occupied dwellings in a cluster, meaning a town or village.  (FYI: An occupied dwelling is defined as a dwelling place for people which is inhabited at least fifty percent of the year or any church, school, business, or other public building open to and used routinely by the public for public purposes.)
"What is the justification for adding a Class IV to the ordinance?" asked Hunziker.  According to the commissioners, they are responding to public opinion.  The Department of Natural Resources does not regulate a Class IV, and currently neither does Knox County’s health ordinance.  In response, the Commissioners have agreed to consider the addition of a Class IV.
"What is to stop these farmers from building two or three or four of these smaller CAFO’s in an area, because they are currently not regulated?" asks Mayfield.  Commissioners, McGinnis, Marble and Mayfield reckon that two Class IV 300-1000 AU are equal to one Class II 1500-2000 AU CAFO’s.
"Currently, we are just gathering information and public opinion on the issue," explained Mayfield.  If or when this addition to the health ordinance is made, a public hearing will be held prior to that."
The group also questioned the reasoning behind a setback of ½ mile on Class IV CAFO’s and a setback of 2 miles from a populated area for all CAFO’s.  According to the Commissioners, the setbacks were made to coincide with the other setbacks for CAFO’s.  However, Hunziker continues to ask what research or study led them to those particular distances. 
Hunziker said that he believes that the Commissioners have not completely familiarized themselves with the county ordinance and does not feel that they are fully qualified to deal with this issue.  "I think it is very important that the Commissioners take into consideration the economic impact within our county, as well," he said.  "The Commissioners have not suggested any alternatives for generating tax dollars within our county."  Many of those present fear that their young people will be forced to make a living elsewhere as opportunities for expanding agriculture to include future generations are in jeopardy with the increasing regulations.    
No changes were made to the notice during the gathering other than the clarification of a "populated area" in relation to "occupied dwellings".  The Commission will continue to study this issue and take into consideration the opinion of all sides before making an opinion.  However, a public hearing is scheduled for October 1 to approve two County Health Permits for construction of Class II Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations south of Knox City.