Hi-Q ruling a grassroots victory for residents of Union County
The story rarely ends this way.
A corporate agricultural operation announces it wants to build a factory egg farm in a rural Midwestern county.
Residents, fearing that millions of chickens would make less-than-ideal neighbors, mount an aggressive grassroots campaign. "No More Chickens" signs start popping up in farm fields, and crowds rivaling those for midwinter high school basketball games, gather for public hearings on the case.
The residents make impassioned pleas to state agricultural officials, speaking out against potential air and groundwater pollution if the facility isn't operated responsibly. A woman who runs a horse therapy ranch for children with autism cries for the children she might no longer be able to help because of flies from the egg farm that would infest her horses.
Company officials pledge to be good neighbors and assure officials there is no reason to deny them a permit to build the facility.
Then the case moves to the state department of agriculture. Meanwhile, a new governor is elected, and as new state agency appointments are made, the case sits in limbo.
After nearly four years of public debate, protest and legal maneuvering, the decision comes down from the state: Permit denied.
At a time when many people think government turns a deaf ear to their protests about high taxes, high unemployment and corporate bailouts, a controversial decision actually comes down in their favor.
While literally hundreds of people lined up to fight the application, the people of Union County can thank an unlikely hero for the decision that led Iowa-based Hi-Q Egg Products to abandon its plan to build a multi-million-hen egg farm in rural York Township.
When John Kasich was elected governor, he made no secret of the fact that he was pro-business. Then he appointed James Zehringer as director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Zehringer himself once oversaw operations -- at an egg farm.
The skeptical were pleasantly surprised when Zehringer rejected Hi-Q's application to build. The next day, Hi-Q officials announced they were abandoning plans to build in Union County.
Four years ago, the people of Union County appeared helpless in their attempts to stop Hi-Q from building the egg farm. Local government officials were frustrated by the fact that they had virtually no voice in the decision.
However, in a real-life civics lesson for their children, Union County residents fought back against Hi-Q and won.
Taxes still might be too high. Unemployment still could create hardships across the state and nation. Still, at least for today, the people of Union County can celebrate a rare victory against seemingly insurmountable odds.