A more balanced view

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The majority of unsigned letters to the editor I receive are worthless. They either spew hatred, accuse someone of some nefarious deed without a shred of proof or point out my faults as an editor in not-too-kind language. The fact that these individuals do not have the courage to sign their name to their words or accusations reveals cowardice and makes their opinions lack credibility. Because it's our policy to run only signed letters, these unsigned offerings are usually pitched in the wastebasket, and if particularly hateful or cruel, they are first torn up into tiny pieces and then thrown away.

More rarely, we receive a letter that is well written and thought provoking but unsigned. Communications of this type are rare, but two weeks ago, we received such a letter. We looked at the envelope for some clue as to who the letter writer was but could find nothing. The person stated that he or she did not sign the letter because they feared reprisal for their opinion, and in this case, we accept their reasoning but regret we cannot run their words, which offer a different view on a topic that has been the focus of numerous letters to the editor and articles published in this newspaper over the past year.

After rereading the letter on numerous occasions (you will note, we did not toss this epistle away), we decided to share some of this writer's thoughts, because we believe they have merit. Newspapers should attempt to show all sides to an issue. We accomplish this in our news stories by interviewing all parties involved, but we have no control over what letters to the editor are submitted. The letters we have printed on this page concerning construction of a confined animal feeding operation (by now you should know this as a CAFO) have been mostly from opponents of that enterprise. The letter we received two weeks ago offered a different perspective - one we believe is worth offering up to our readers.

First of all, let us remember that the Ozbuns who are building the CAFO on property they own along Highway F in Eagle Rock are not criminals. In fact, they are a couple seeking to start a business to support their family. The Ozbuns have gone through all the proper channels to get a permit for their operation according to DNR guidelines and their actions should not be suspect. There currently are no laws governing how close CAFOs can be built to state parks or historic sites, so the Ozbuns' decision to build pullet houses on their property is well within their rights to do so. According to DNR officials, the operation proposed by the Ozbuns will not negatively impact water quality in the area as long as permit requirements for disposal of waste are followed. The Ozbuns have publically said they intend to dispose of the litter produced by the pullet houses in a responsible, lawful manner, and until shown otherwise, they must be taken at their word.

The situation that is occurring in Eagle Rock is not uncommon in areas where previously rural tracts of land are being sold and developed. Thousands of new residents call Barry County home. They are enticed by the beauty of this area's natural landscape, the relatively low cost of living and the ideal of living in a rural paradise far removed from the stresses of big city living. But as new people move in, there must be an understanding that agriculture is a way of life for many Barry Countians and an important part of our economy. When making the choice to live in a rural area, newcomers must realize that the smell of farm animals and manure should be expected. Agriculture remains a huge part of Barry County's make-up and the right to farm must be considered as part of the larger discussion on this issue.

It should also be noted that poultry litter and animal manure are not the main sources of water pollution in Table Rock Lake or our area streams and rivers. Studies have shown that failing septic systems and household chemicals account for the majority of water quality issues. Unbridled development contributes to the problem. There's a good argument to be made that blacktopped roads and the removal of trees and vegetation to build huge lake home developments are the real culprits endangering our water supply.

The point I am trying to make once again is that a balance must be found. The Ozbuns should not be made out to be the bad guys in this situation, and if people don't want CAFOs built near state parks and historic sites, they must lobby legislators to change current land use laws. It's also important to note that all farmers are not out to destroy the land they depend on to make a living or torture the animals they raise and all developers are not out to scar our beautiful countryside. Again, balance, common sense and relying on fact rather than emotion are key to living peacefully in a Barry County that has become a beautiful blend of agriculture, industry, business and tourism.