Decision to delay CAFO rules draws ire from both sides
ELKTON — The county council’s decision to delay any new regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) until 2018 has won them few friends on either side of the increasingly contentious debate.
During its Tuesday morning work session, the council voted 4-1 to push planned changes to these regulations until next year in order to allow at least one applicant time to proceed through the process under current regulations.
Following that vote, Council President Joyce Bowlsbey predicted that the council would be hearing from members of the Calvert Neighbor Alliance (CNA), which was organized in the wake of the Horst farm’s planned poultry CAFO off England Creamery Road, about the decision.
Many of those members did show up to voice their frustration during Tuesday night’s Citizen’s Corner, but so too did Jeff Pettitt, the Elkton farmer for whom the regulations were delayed.
While thanking some members of the council for the decision to delay, he also criticized the county’s overall permitting process, which he said may prevent him from meeting even the extended deadline. He’s already invested thousands of dollars in his potential CAFO and Pettitt said he’s frustrated the rules may be changed halfway through the process.
“So here I sit again being pushed aside, deadlines being thrown in front of me saying, ‘ You’ve got to put a move on, stop wasting time, what are you doing?’” Pettitt said. “I’m trying to overcome the hurdles that my government has put in place only to be thwarted time and time again.”
The decision to delay the regulations is just the latest move in a debate that started more than a year ago after the Horst farm in Zion revealed it would be operating a CAFO — essentially a large-scale chicken house with thousands of chickens — and nearby residents who formed the CNA voiced concerns about the public health and environmental impact. They have actively lobbied the council to enact some sort of regulation, prompting the creation of a CAFO committee, which was created to review zoning regulations and recommend any changes.
The CAFO committee was comprised of 10 members, including farmers, CNA members, poultry industry members, and members of the general public, among others.
After hours of discussion over three meetings, the majority of the committee put forth a recommendation favoring more lenient restrictions compared to what the CNA members sought. The council then in turn, agreed on changes that don’t mirror the recommendations but do place stricter setbacks on applicants, especially from neighboring dwellings, and set a minimum acreage requirement.
While revealing few details about his project, Pettitt, who said he lives in Elkton, told the council he plans to build about six chicken houses and that he’s about 325 to 350 feet from the nearest residence. The current rules allow 300-foot setbacks but the proposed new regulations would change that to 400 feet. In order to be grandfathered in under current regulations, Pettitt needs to acquire both a building permit and start construction before the new regulations take effect, which now would likely be mid-year 2018.
However, Pettitt said he’s not sure that will be possible, even with the deadline extension. He recently checked on the status of his application with the Cecil County Soil Conservation District, the step prior to going through the county permitting process, and said he was told that there are two big projects ahead of him and that the office was “having a hard time” getting to his application.
“I don’t have a problem with waiting for these other corporations to get theirs. They’re going to employ more people than I am. It’s going to be better for the county that they get up and running before me,” he said. “I understand that, but the clock is ticking.”
Councilman Bob Meffley, who as a small business owner has often talked about streamlining the permitting process, promised Pettitt that he would look into exactly why he was being pushed “to the back of the line.”
On the opposite side of the debate, several CNA members said that the process of drafting new rules for CAFOs has gone on long enough, but also ex- pressed frustration over the council’s decision to not take a harsher stance.
“I find it really disturbing that the proposed amendments and recommendations from the committee that you created to look at CAFOs have been disregarded, discounted, you changed them all,” said Sue Orndorf, of the CNA. “What what was your intent to do the committee if you were just going to make it like it is now?”
Donna Allen, who lives near the Horst Farm, acknowledged Pettitt’s investment in his farm, but said those who live around CAFOs have made investments too.
“What about us that bought homes? Homes in a place that we thought we were going to live the rest of our lives, and we’re now looking at possibly loss of value in properties,” she said.
Bowlsbey noted that the Horst farm was there when Allen moved in, comparing the CAFO situation to that fact that she bought a home in a development district where a 1,400-home project was once proposed.
“Every time we make a change in this county, any time a new development begins, any time a farmer changes what he’s going to farm, it certainly affects people,” she said. “But this is a ‘right to farm’ county and he has a right to farm. He has a right to do this under Maryland state law.”
Sur Orndorf, a member of the CNA, expressed frustration with the council’s lack of action on new rules for CAFOs.
Lindsay Carbone sips the broth from her bowl of chicken penne soup at the Empty Bowls fundraiser held Friday night at Art Space On Main to benefit Wayfarer’s House.
Bill Turnbull sends a photo of a blue bowl to a friend who was unable to attend the Empty Bowls event Friday night at Art Space On Main in Elkton. Turnbull said his friend simply told him to “pick out something blue.”
Jessica Gray tries to get her son Declan, 2, to eat another spoonful of soup at the Empty Bowls fundraiser Friday night at Art Space on Main in Elkton.