Buckeye Egg Farm ordered to close barns

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SALEM, Ohio – After Buckeye Egg Farm’s 20 years of countless broken promises to clean up its act and the way it does business, one promise has been kept.

Ohio Agriculture Director Fred L. Dailey followed through on his vow to regulate the farm and revoke permits held by owner Anton Pohlmann when he ordered closure of all barns at the farm July 8.

Dailey revoked all 12 permits that allowed the farm to operate, a power given to the department under the state’s livestock environmental permitting program.

He also denied 11 of the farm’s pending permit applications.

“This extreme action is warranted after nine contempt citations and a history of significant non-compliance with environmental laws,” Dailey said.

Taking the blame. The farm has been blamed for manure-polluted waterways, odors so strong they pervade closed doors and windows, beetle and fly infestations and headaches of frustrated homeowners in four Ohio counties.

Buckeye Egg has more than 15 million laying hens and pullets, as well as a hatchery and breeding barn.

The farm must depopulate all of its barns in Hardin, Licking, Marion and Wyandot counties beginning in early August.

Buckeye Egg plans to appeal the decision.

More like home. Local homeowners are happy but skeptical, according to one couple who lives just 1,500 feet from the Marseilles barns.

Robert Bear has lived in the LaRue area all his 67 years and, since 1996, within a hop, skip and a jump from 16 barns on County Road 77 southeast of the Marseilles farm.

He and his wife have filled nine scrapbooks with news clippings about the farm from its beginning. One of the most important dates is Oct. 19, 1998 – the day the chickens came.

At first things were fine, said Bear’s wife, Rosella.

Soon the dust and odor followed, and then the flies. So many of them – flies covered their windows and their food – that the Bears could no longer host a family reunion at their country home.

Can’t ignore. They can see the barns from their bedroom window, their back porch, and their cars every time they leave the house. The air conditioner hums and doors and windows no longer stand open – they’re trying to keep the odor out – and their grandchildren play inside. The farm’s 3.3 million hens can’t be ignored, they say.

Through their involvement in the Concerned Citizens of Central Ohio group, the couple has banded with homeowners from Hardin, Marion and Wyandot counties to pressure the farm to obey court orders and clean up. The latest ruling is a victory for them, but not the end of the battle.

“We’re really not too hopeful. We’ve seen this before, where they’ve been told to close barns, and it never got done,” Bear said, citing an order to close barns in August 2002. No barns were ever shut down, he said.

Flying the coop. In the latest order, Dailey ordered Buckeye Egg Farm to begin closing two barns a week starting with the Marseilles facilities in Wyandot County.

The next facility ordered closed is the Croton farms in Licking County, beginning with Layer Site No. 2, followed by Layer Site No. 1, the pullet sites, breeder site, hatchery, and remaining layer sites.

The third facility ordered closed is the Goshen farm, followed by the Mount Victory barns, both located in Hardin County.

Buckeye Egg facilities produce 2.4 billion eggs each year. It is the biggest egg-producing farm in Ohio and fourth largest in the nation.

Closing barns includes removing all birds; cleaning and removing feed from feed bins and feed conveyor lines; and draining all water lines and shutting off all water service.

The order states all barn closings should be complete by June 1, 2004, and all manure must be removed no later than Sept. 1, 2004.

Time for a change. “The pollution and nuisance problems caused by this farm during the last decade were intolerable. The sad legacy of mismanagement of Buckeye Egg Farm is rapidly coming to an end,” Dailey said.

“I am disappointed that this closure will likely cost jobs and income for many family farmers and other residents of rural central Ohio,” he said.

A hearing officer upheld Dailey’s proposed action after listening to hundreds of hours of testimony on the issue and researching state law.

Firing back. Attorneys for the farm argued that “shutting down will put 525 people out of work, deprive suppliers of approximately $90 million a year in revenue (…$20 million to grain suppliers) and deprive the state, local communities and schools of hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax revenue.”

The attorneys also maintained “revocation of its permits would likely cause employees to leave, creating serious difficulty in closing facilities in an orderly fashion that protects public health and the environment.”

In his report, hearing officer Alan Lapp addressed the community impact, saying the loss of jobs and economic impact the farm’s closure will have, was not an “appropriate determining factor” in making the decision to close the farm with “a history of substantial noncompliance.”

“The economic impact of closure of these facilities is no doubt real,” Lapp wrote.

“…I do not believe that the continued operation of a noncomplying facility must be tolerated because there are consequences associated with its discontinuation that are adverse,” he continued.

Appeal planned. In a written statement from Buckeye Egg, the company said it regrets Dailey’s decision “because of the negative impact it will have on our operations and on the economy of the state of Ohio during these times of financial hardship.”

The company plans an immediate appeal and is “very optimistic. We have demonstrated our ability to operate effectively in recent months and believe that allowing new owners to purchase and operate our farms is a more practical approach,” the statement said.

Officials from Buckeye Egg were not available for comment.

Still waiting. “It’s good news, but we’ve heard good news before. We can’t get too elated, since [Buckeye Egg] usually finds ways to get around” rulings, Rosella Bear said.

“The politicians tell us that they share our concerns, but as soon as the heat is off, Pohlmann always gets his way with out state officials,” said Concerned Citizens member Jim Carey, who lives near the Goshen facility.

“That place is just so big. It’s the nature of the beast,” Robert Bear said of the apparent mismanagement and continued permit violations. “I don’t think anybody can run a farm with 3.3 million chickens correctly.”

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)



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Agriculture director promises to continue strong farm permit program

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio – Ohio Department of Agriculture director Fred L. Dailey promised to continue the advances made by the department’s new program for permitting large livestock and poultry farms.

In or on the books. In nearly one year, the department of agriculture’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program has issued 17 final permits to install and permits to operate.

Six draft permits are in or near the public comment phase, and 25 permit applications are in the review process.

State authority. The authority to regulate farms with more than 1,000 animal units was given to the department of agriculture under S.B. 141, signed into law in December 2000 by Gov. Bob Taft.

On Aug. 19, 2002, the Livestock Environmental Permitting Program began implementing rules governing construction for all new and existing large livestock and poultry farms; all aspects of manure storage, handling, transportation, and land-application by these farms; the farms’ plans for insect and rodent control; and compliance and enforcement procedures.

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