Permit okayed despite protests

Friday, March 9, 2007

Michelle and Rodney Ozbun have been granted a permit to construct a four-barn, 65,600-capacity chicken pullet operation on their farm, which is located along Highway F in Eagle Rock. Approval of the permit was announced by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on March 2, and a four-page letter explaining the department's decision was mailed this week to all parties who expressed an interest in the process.

The permit allows for construction of a Class 1C concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) on property that has been owned by Michele Ozbun's family for over 100 years. The facility will be operated as a "no-discharge" operation, which means waste must be contained and stored until it can be properly land applied.

According to DNR, most of the waste from the operation will be shipped and land applied at off-site locations "due to the lack of adequate land available at the operation site." The permit also allows for construction of a manure stacking shed and composter.

By permitting construction of the Ozbun farm, DNR officials have concluded that the project complies with existing Missouri law and that the permit application "met all legal and regulatory requirements and demonstrated that the operation will protect waters of the state."

The project proposed by the Ozbuns attracted an outcry of opposition from area residents concerned about water quality, air quality and the negative effect a CAFO could have on tourism and property values.

These concerns were voiced during several public meetings and culminated with a DNR-hosted public forum on Jan. 22.

The permit application also produced many comments following the October 2006 neighbor notice that was sent out by the Ozbuns as part of the permitting process.

A number of the comments focused on concerns with certain diseases or health conditions, such as allergies and asthma. In response to those issues, DNR said it did not have authority to base its permitting on those factors and "has no information at this time that links the previously mentioned diseases to the operation of any CAFO in this area."

Other concerns listed by those opposing the construction of a CAFO in the Eagle Rock area included: ground and surface water contamination; waste management; water quantity; odor; oversight; property values and local economy; location; and highway and traffic.

In response to issues about the pullet operation's proximity to Table Rock Lake and Roaring River, DNR pointed out that the system is to be operated as a no-discharge system. Releases to waters of the state from the facility are not allowed under the permit and would be illegal and subject to enforcement action and penalties.

The issue of oversight was also addressed. In its letter to interested members of the public, DNR states that regular unscheduled inspections would be conducted at the facility and any complaints received by the department would be investigated.

In the letter's conclusion, Darrick Steen, agricultural unit chief with DNR's Water Protection Program, writes: "Although, in general, the public asked for denial of this application, the department is obligated to review each application equally with respect to regulations set forth by the Clean Water Commission, and based upon this review, we have determined that the construction permit application is complete and that the facility and operations as designed will be protective of the state's water resources."

The department's decision to approve the Ozbuns' construction permit can be appealed. All appeals must be filed with the Administrative Hearing Commission within 30 days of the permit issuance. Appeals should be sent to the: Administration Hearing Commission, P.O. Box 1557, Jefferson City, MO 65102 or by fax to 573-751-5018.

For more information, contact DNR's Water Protection Program at 1-800-361-4827.

Once the Ozbuns complete construction of their CAFO, the couple must apply for an operator's permit, which will also require approval from DNR.

Rep. David Sater, R-Cassville, was notified of DNR's issuance of the Ozbun permit and stated his support for the decision.

"I am a strong believer in free enterprise and the property owner's right to do with their property what they want to do," said Sater.

The legislator also used the permit announcement as an opportunity to publically offer his opinion on newly introduced legislation concerning the creation of CAFO buffer zones around state parks and historic sites.

"I do not believe you can take anyone's land to create buffer zones, nor have I heard from anyone on how to compensate the property owner if he did want to sell," said Sater, who suggested that zoning would be the only way to control where CAFOs could be built.

"I believe in local control, and if people really want regulations that prevent CAFOs from being built around state parks, they need to put pertinent zoning on the books," said Sater.

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