SALEM, Ohio – The Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission decided Aug. 23 Ohio Fresh Eggs didn’t falsify information in its permit applications, and called the state department of agriculture’s revocation of the permits “unreasonable.”
Violator. In November 2006, the agriculture department revoked the farm’s 16 permits to install and operate in Licking, Hardin and Wyandot counties, saying egg farm operators should have divulged the name of an anonymous investor in the company.
That investor held an option to purchase the company, and acted as the farm’s main financial backer during its purchase from Anton Pohlmann.
The anonymous investor turned out to be Austin “Jack” DeCoster, a farm operator labeled a “habitual” and “chronic” violator of Iowa’s environmental laws.
Testimonial. In testimony before the appeals commission, attorneys for DeCoster and the egg farm said they had questioned ODA officials multiple times as to whether DeCoster’s name needed to appear on permitting documents during the permit procedure.
State Livestock Environmental Permitting Program officials typically run background checks on individuals whose names are listed on permit applications. It was assumed if DeCoster’s name appeared on permitting applications, the state would either delay or deny permits for the farm.
Like a bank. Farm owner-operators Don Hershey and Orland Bethel also testified the initial arrangement was for DeCoster to act solely as an investor, not a manager.
The attorneys said they were told by ODA that since DeCoster provided only finances, not management, it was not necessary to list him.
LEPP officials testified they told an egg farm attorney and Don Hershey the identity of the optionee could remain confidential.
“This is not a situation where the [ODA] requested additional information and the applicant failed or refused to supply it; nor is there any evidence to indicate that any questions posed to the applicants by the [ODA] were answered untruthfully or evasively,” the three commissioners wrote in their final order.
“Rather, the [ODA] chose to acquiesce in [Ohio Fresh Egg’s] request that the identity of the optionee remain confidential without the benefit of further discussion and without conducting an independent review of the operative documents.”
Permits. The November ODA order included revocation of all permits issued for the Croton egg farm, which includes four layer sites, four pullet sites, and a hatchery and breeder pullet site.
It also included revocation of all permits issued for the Mount Victory egg farm and Goshen pullet farm located in Hardin County, and the Marseilles egg farm in Wyandot County.
The state’s proposed order said farm operators had to close all barns by July 6, 2007. However, the egg farm stayed open during the appeal.
Harry Palmer, egg farm spokesman, declined to comment. Bill Smith, an Iowa-based attorney for the egg farm, did not return calls.
More to come? Livestock Environmental Permitting Program spokesman Bill Schwaderer said the department of agriculture’s legal staff is reviewing the 82-page decision.
The department has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Franklin County Court of Appeals.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
EPA slaps Ohio Fresh Eggs with fines (2-22-07)