While the Hi-Q controversy in Union County appears to have ended, recently introduced legislation in the Ohio General Assembly might affect how local and county governments manage similar situations in the future.
House Bill 229, introduced on May 17, addresses several issues, including what requirements developers of confined animal feeding facilities (CAFFs) and major confined animal feeding facilities (MCAFFs) are subjected to when they propose new operations.
State Rep. David Burke (R-Marysville) said H.B. 229 would need some work before he could support it.
"I believe this is going to come to the House floor next week. It's going to be a bill I'll have a difficult time supporting in its current form," he said on June 8. "Right now, I don't support it. I understand its intent, what it's trying to achieve, but at the same token, it doesn't bring resolution to the issue at hand."
Burke added that putting large, commercial animal operations designated as CCAFFs and MCCAFFs into the same category as the typical family farm doesn't make sense.
"That particular issue, to me, is what makes this a state issue," he said. "I don't think a large, concentrated animal-feeding facility is the same thing as the family farm - if we press rules to protect farmers from undue regulations as they do their business, which sometimes is not pretty, to compare that to a (confined animal feeding operation) is like comparing Bob's Auto Repair to Honda. Obviously, those people both work on vehicles, but they're not the same.
"If the state wishes to pursue this type of agriculture, it should address different regulations for the type of entities that aren't family farms as we typically think of them," Burke said. "I think that as a state, we have an opportunity to utilize a new type of agriculture and we need to draft regulations around that, but to continue to lump these things together is a disservice to the family farm, to be honest with you."
If approved, H.B. 229 would set a 75-day limit after a developer's initial application for responses from local officials. In Union County's case, Ohio Department of Agriculture director Jim Zehringer cited the lack of a complete application - a transportation agreement between the developer, county and township was missing - as his basis for denying Hi-Q's permit requests.
"Currently, a letter is required from local officials for an application to be considered a complete application, per current law," said Andy Ware, ODA communications director. "The changes proposed in H.B. 229 specify that input is required from local officials on the proposed facility, but if that is not received, then the permit application can still move forward, so that the lack of the final letter does not unduly hold up the application."
Under the proposed bill, once the 75 days are up, the applicant can submit a notarized affidavit that notice had been given to local officials without receiving written final recommendations from them. The ODA would not be able to deny a permit application due to that missing final recommendation, as long as the time limit had been reached, under H.B. 229.
Union County engineer Jeff Stauch testified before the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee on May 25 regarding the proposed changes. He said 75 days is not enough time for a county or township to properly gauge what the impact of a proposed CAFF or MCAFF would be.
"As an example, if our office needs to hire a traffic or engineering study to review the proposal, under current law for consultant selection, it may take the entire 75 days to select the consultant and negotiate a fee," he said. "Also, the poten-tially considerable costs for a study should be considered for reimbursement. Additionally, once the road impacts are determined, it can take some time to negotiate the recommendations of the study with the developer. I would suggest a minimum of six months to replace the 75 days."
Stauch said CAFFs and MCAFFs should be treated the same as other large developments.
"Agricultural exemptions were originally intended for family farms," he said. "These exemptions are being taken advantage of by CAFFs, with a potentially detrimental effect on roads. They should be treated just like other developments. Consistency is fair and is good public policy. Allow engineers to work through the issues the right way, as we do with other developers."
Ware said that out of about 20 applications for major animal-feeding facilities that have been received by the ODA in the past 10 years, the Hi-Q proposal was the only one that did not provide such a final letter of recommendation.