De­ci­sion to de­lay CAFO rules draws ire from both sides

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JESSICA IANNETTA jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

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.”

CECIL WHIG PHOTO BY JESSICA IANNETTA

Sur Orn­dorf, a mem­ber of the CNA, ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the coun­cil’s lack of ac­tion on new rules for CAFOs.

CECIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

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.

CECIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

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.”

CECIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

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.

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