More cows fuel flames of a dairy under fire

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SALEM, Ohio – Some of Jan Van Ham’s neighbors were angry about the alleged flies and smell from 690 cows at his dairy farm in Putnam County.

Throw in three times as many cows and they’re downright furious.

Ohio Department of Agriculture approved final permits Nov. 26 for Van Ham’s farm to expand to 2,250 cows.

The decision comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Van Ham’s neighbors alleging he “allowed an unreasonable quantity of cattle at [his] premises resulting in unreasonable flies, waste, airborne particles and odors.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney John Sproat said the lawsuit addresses damage done from 690 cows. What about the damage when that number triples, he questioned.

As of press time, a response to the suit had not been filed, barring Van Ham’s attorney, Bob Karl, from further comment. The pretrial hearing will be Jan. 15.

Expanding. Van Ham applied for the necessary permits March 6.

The lawsuit did not affect the permitting process, Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesperson Deb Abbott said in an earlier interview.

With the permits to operate and install, Van Ham will add manure storage, expand existing barns, build new barns and install a stormwater retention basin.

The expansion is part of a two-phase project, which Van Ham requested so another manure storage structure can be built before he adds additional cows.

Guarantees. Attorney Sproat said his clients take no comfort in another lagoon. They want controls put on the manure storage.

For example, Sproat said covers on Van Ham’s lagoons may help the problem. In addition, liners in the lagoon could prevent manure leaking into groundwater, Sproat said.

Sproat recognizes these steps are costly but said someone has to shoulder the expense.

Sticking to schedule. The construction schedule requires Van Ham to begin construction of his earthen manure storage pond by March 1.

Prior to its use, ODA will inspect the facility to ensure it was built according to design plans.

After the first phase is complete, Van Ham can expand to 825 mature cows, according to the construction schedule.

In the second phase, he will build two freestall barns but he cannot begin to stock them with cattle until next November.

Money, damages. Each of the 17 plaintiffs, from six families, is seeking at least $175,000 for alleged emotional distress and invasion of the quiet enjoyment of their property.

In addition, they are suing for reported medical expenses and loss of earnings.

Future trial dates will be scheduled at the pretrial hearing, Sproat said.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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