Neighbors would get less notice about livestock farms under pending bill

Friday, March 11, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Rural Missourians could be surprised to see chicken or pig barns being built next door under legislation endorsed Thursday by the Senate that would lessen public notification requirements for all but the largest livestock producers.

The bill also would prohibit counties from enacting local ordinances that go further than the state's restrictions on animal feeding operations.

Rural senators promoted the bill as way to protect farmers' property rights against "radical environmental groups" that stir up opposition to big livestock farms among neighbors and county politicians.

The bill, which needs a final vote to advance to the House, is backed by the state's big commodity groups -- the cattle, dairy, pork and poultry associations.

But other rural Missourians, who have been fighting corporate hog farms for a decade, contend the Senate legislation would repeal some of their hard-fought-for protections. A similar bill is pending in the House.

"These bills would eliminate the family farmer and rural person's rights to protect their property values" from falling when foul-smelling livestock barns are built nearby, said Bill Christison, a Livingston County farmer who joined about 50 others in a rally against the legislation last week.

Under the bill, only the largest Missouri farms -- those with more than 17,500 big pigs, for example -- would still be subject to the current requirements of notifying nearby property owners and county officials before building or expanding their operations. Missouri has 22 of those Class 1A concentrated animal feeding operations.

The bill proposed to eliminate notification requirements for all other livestock feeding operations. In the face of opposition, however, sponsoring Sen. John Cauthorn agreed to amend the bill to still require notification of neighbors -- but not local officials -- for Class 1B farms, containing 7,500 to 17,499 big hogs, for example. Missouri has 32 of those farms.

Feeding farms

Missouri has about 325 Class 1C animal feeding farms -- most raising hogs and chickens -- with that number of farms growing monthly. All those farms -- for example, containing 2,500 to 7,499 big hogs -- would be exempt from notifying neighbors or local officials about plans to build or expand their operations.

"This notification process is just a continual infringement on what I consider my rights" as a property owner, said Sen. Dan Clemens, R-Marshfield, a supporter of the bill.

Sen. David Klindt, R-Bethany, said opponents of large livestock farms are exaggerating the dangers to the environment and fail to understand that farmers must expand to make a living.

Local health ordinances -- currently in effect in eight counties -- amount to nothing more than agricultural zoning, Klindt said.

"Some of it is jealousy of their neighbors," he said, "or they've been led down the wrong path by some of these environmental radicals. ... Little by little, it's chipping away what we can do on our farms, and I'm frustrated."

But Livingston County Presiding Commissioner Eva Danner contended her county was motivated by legitimate health concerns when enacting its ordinance eight years ago. Livingston County imposes some restrictions on livestock farms too small to be affected by the state laws.

"It is not our desire to regulate CAFOs out; we just want to make sure they're good neighbors," Danner said.

The Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club also bristled at Klindt's criticism.

"Clean air and clean water are not radical concepts," said chapter director Carla Klein. "Local control is not a radical concept."

Livestock bill is SB187.

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