CROTON, Ohio — Anton Pohlmann first entered the life of the state of Ohio in 1980 when he purchased 2,200 acres of farmland near Croton to build an egg production facility.
At the time, Pohlmann had large hatcheries in Germany, and in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and had just begun moving into the egg production business.
By 1984, the Croton Farm had 56 layer houses for 4.8 million hens; 21 pullet rearing houses; four egg processing plants; a hatchery; breeder pullet and layer houses; a feed mill and grain storage, all attached to 6,000 acres of Licking County land.
When the AgriGeneral operation started talking about expanding by building a new state-of-the-art egg layer facility in southeastern Hardin County in 1995, the Croton farm was producing 65,000 cases of eggs a week.
At the time the LaRue farm received its permit to operate from the Ohio EPA, the Pohlmanns were talking about a “trade-marked Turbo-House Environmental System, which uses negative air pressure drawn through the roof by ground level external fans.”
The new system was supposed to remove nearly all the moisture from the manure.
But even at that point, residents around the proposed LaRue facility appeared at EPA hearings to oppose the approval of such large operations that confined so many birds in such a small area.
They expressed concerns about groundwater contamination, damaged roads, and environmental damage.
And they had concerns about Pohlmann.
Known as the “chicken baron” in Germany, he had recently been to court over a salmonella outbreak in his flock, and had been accused of inhumanly conducting a court-ordered extermination of the birds by shutting off the air conditioning and their feed and water supplies.
In 1996, he would again be hauled into German courts, this time charged with spraying his chickens with caffeine, feeding them an illegal disinfectant, and with cruelty to animals.
He was banned for life from owning animals in Germany.
But Pohlmann’s operations in Ohio, now renamed Buckeye Egg Farm, continued to grow.
By 1998 there were 2.5 million laying hens at the LaRue facility, and Buckeye had applied for permits to:
— Increase the LaRue facility by another 3.3 million layers;
— Construct a new egg farm at Marseilles in Wyandot County for 3.3 million layers;
— Increase the size of the pullet farms at LaRue by more than 4 million pullets;
— Construct a third 3.3 million layer facility, and a fourth 4.1 million layer facility at LaRue;
— Build an egg breaking plant.
By now, Hardin County opposition to the expanding operation coalesced into the Concerned Citizens of Central Ohio. The total number of chickens proposed to be housed in their backyards had reached from 18 to 21 million, and residents complained they were being driven off their farms by the fly problem.
In 1997, darkling beetles were introduced into the layer houses to help dry out manure. But the manure, laced with the beetles, was not fumigated before being spread on fields and caused a severe infestation in neighboring homes.
While public hearings were being scheduled on all of these facilities, the Ohio EPA approved another expansion for the Croton facility that would increase the size of the farm by another eight layer barns, four new breeder barns, and two new pullet barns.
The total increase of birds at the site approved at that time was 4.5 million, bringing the total number of hens at the Croton farm to just over 11.2 million.
In July, the EPA tabled the applications at LaRue of two egg farms and two pullet farms and the egg breaking plant until other facilities had been operated without environmental problems for a full year.
It went ahead with hearings to approve the Marseilles Egg Farm, the expansion of the LaRue farm, and the addition to two pullet facilities. The Wyandot County facility was approved in October; the others, later in the year.
In November, however, the attorney general’s office began the process it is now pursuing, of taking Buckeye Egg to court on behalf of the EPA.
The first motion was to revoke the expansion permit at the Croton facility. With six of the eight new layer barns already built, the OEPA said it had not thoroughly reviewed all the implications for all of Ohio’s environmental laws.
The first OEPA penalty imposed against the operation in April 1999 was for beginning construction at the LaRue facility without taking adequate precautions to prevent stormwater from entering a nearby stream.
It was the alleged liquid fertilizer discharge from the Croton facility in April 1999 that finally brought action. Fish died for 13 miles along Raccoon Creek.
OEPA sought and received a preliminary injunction requiring the Buckeye Egg Farm to take emergency steps to prevent any further damage, and to begin cleaning up the operation. All the barns at the Croton farm were ordered to be cleaned out by Aug. 31.
When nothing that could be documented by OEPA inspections had been done by December, the state filed suit.
The case is scheduled to go to court on Oct. 2.