SALEM, Ohio – Controversy wrapped its ugly hand around Putnam County several years ago when the first Dutch-owned farm poured its concrete, and it hasn’t let go.
Too big, too much manure, too many problems, concerned citizens claimed.
That controversy reached the breaking point Oct. 23 when residents filed a lawsuit against their neighbor, dairy farmer Jan Van Ham and his 690-head operation.
Negligence, fumes, contamination, nuisance, emotional distress, the lawsuit says.
Unreasonable? The neighbors don’t have a problem with the facility itself or the owner. The problem is with Van Ham’s manure management, according to attorneys Joel Campbell and John Sproat.
Plaintiffs allege Van Ham “has allowed an unreasonable quantity of cattle at [his] premises resulting in unreasonable flies, waste, airborne particles and odors.”
At press time, Van Ham’s attorney Bob Karl said he was still evaluating the lawsuit and couldn’t comment further. A response had not yet been filed.
The pretrial hearing will be Jan. 14.
Getting bigger. Although plaintiffs see Van Ham’s 690-head operation as an “unreasonable quantity,” Van Ham has applied for a permit from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to increase his herd to 2,250.
According to department spokesperson Deb Abbott, Van Ham applied for the necessary permits March 6. A decision has not yet been made, but Abbott said the lawsuit will not affect whether Van Ham receives the permits.
If approved, the permits to operate and install will allow Van Ham to add manure storage, expand existing barns, build new barns and install a stormwater retention basin.
Abbott said Van Ham’s permits are unlike any other because he requested a two-phase construction.
Prior to adding any additional cows, Van Ham would add another liquid manure storage structure.
Worse off? A bad situation will be made worse if Van Ham expands, Campbell and Sproat said.
And although the lawsuit was filed at the same time decisions are being made about the permits, the attorneys said the timing was not meant to coincide. Campbell and Sproat said they have been talking with concerned citizens in Putnam County for months.
Other charges. The suit also alleges the “plaintiffs have been denied the peaceable use and quiet enjoyment of their property.”
The plaintiffs also maintain Van Ham was negligent in the operation of his farm, resulting in the discharge of chemicals, waste and flies.
Van Ham also allegedly “inflicted serious emotional distress,” according to the lawsuit.
But Sproat and Campbell said their clients aren’t opposed to farming in general, just farming of this magnitude and with Van Ham’s method of operation.
EPA’s involvement. Since May 13, 2002, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has received four complaints regarding the Van Ham farm.
Those complaints include two incidents of manure runoff and two complaints of a dark-colored discharge from field tile.
According to EPA records, Van Ham is working with them to correct the problems.
In addition, EPA spokesperson Dina Pierce said Van Ham responded to the complaints by sending the requested documents and applying for the recommended wastewater permit.
Pain, suffering. In the lawsuit, neighbors say they’ve “experienced great pain and suffering,” which will be “permanent.”
Each of the 17 plaintiffs, from six families, is seeking at least $175,000 for invasion of quiet enjoyment and emotional distress.
In addition, plaintiffs reportedly suffered injuries to the mind and body due to Van Ham’s alleged negligence.
Their medical expenses were in excess of $20,000, according to the lawsuit, and they expect to have more. Loss of earnings was in excess of $25,000, they allege.
Coming to America. Jan Van Ham and his family started building their farm in Continental, Ohio, in April 2001.
Earlier this year in an interview with Farm and Dairy, Van Ham said there was no future for his farm in The Netherlands.
The expansion necessary to give his children a future in agriculture was too expensive. Between the exorbitant cost of the country’s milk quotas and lack of land to buy, he said his only alternative was moving.
After considering several locations, he settled on Continental, with the help of Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development.
Van Ham milked for the first time at his new farm Oct. 4, 2001.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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