Special report: Hi-Q egg farm decision
Hi-Q will 'accept and respect' ODA ruling
Hi-Q Egg Products LLC has abandoned its plans to construct a major egg-laying facility in Union County's York Township, following a years-long battle with local and state officials, residents and activists.
Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) director James Zehringer formally denied the Iowa-based egg producer permits to install and operate the proposed facility on June 2, citing the recommendations of ODA hearing officers.
"Following a thorough review of the hearing officer's report and recommendations regarding the Hi-Q permits, I've concluded that the Department of Agricul-ture has no other viable option but to deny the West Mansfield permits due to an incomplete application," Zehringer said.
The documents missing from a complete application include a transportation agreement between Hi-Q (with Jeffry Henning and Steven George, both of Johnston, Iowa, listed as LLC members), York Township and Union County. The agreement, which county officials have said was needed to spell out how increased repairs needed for county roads would be funded, was never reached.
While Hi-Q has the option of appealing Zehringer's decision to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, the egg producer's attorney, Kevin Braig, said Hi-Q will abide by the ODA's decision.
"Hi-Q has decided to accept and respect the decision of the director," Braig said. "The argument that Hi-Q would make in any appeal to the commission would be the same they'd made in the administrative process. If it went further, the only change would be someone different looking at (the argument)."
Hi-Q's proposed facility has been a hot-button issue in the county since 2007, when the company first submitted applications with the ODA to construct a facility in West Mansfield. Hundreds of residents and opponents have attended public meetings to object to the proposal, and a group of York Township residents has met nearly every week over the past several years to keep one another updated on the farm's progress.
If the ODA had approved Hi-Q's requests, the company planned to construct 15 layer houses with 400,000 layers each, for a total capacity of 6 million chickens, on a site at 22450 Davis Road, West Mansfield.
The proposed farm qualified as a major concentrated animal feeding facility (MCAFF.) It would have also included three separate manure storage barns, a lagoon treatment system for the egg wash, consisting of three different storage cells that would have held several million gallons, and generated 60-80 permanent jobs.
Rather than one central location, land would have been available for future growth between Davis Road and state Route 47, on either side of Powder Lick Road, east of state Route 739 and east of Storms Road, according to a site map provided by the Union County Engineer's Office.
County engineer Jeff Stauch, who took point for the county in researching the proposal and testifying numerous times before the ODA, said last week he was pleased with the news.
"It's some great news for a lot of people who worked very hard and spent a lot of time on this," Stauch said. "We're pleased to hear that director Zehringer confirmed what the hearing officer had suggested and what previous director (Robert Boggs) had concluded."
Boggs had indicated in a letter to Hi-Q that the ODA intended to deny the permit requests last August, citing mandates in the Ohio Revised Code to provide all necessary documents in the permitting process. The missing documents were transportation agreements between the farm developer, county commissioners and York Township trustees, which would have established - before the farm was built -- who was responsible for infrastructure improvements. That agreement was never reached.
"As it stands, all along we've been very consistent in asking Hi-Q to make some needed road improvements for the safety of the county," county commissioner Gary Lee told ThisWeek after Boggs' letter was published. "There's going to be tremendous traffic going through that area. We have said all along that if Hi-Q complies with our transportation requirements, we will sign an agreement and sent it to the (ODA) director. We're not using this as an excuse to hold up the permit."
While that agreement was never reached, the ODA held a hearing on the proposal last December at which Stauch and county prosecutor David Phillips both presented the county's case to the department. After reviewing the testimony of county officials and egg farm representatives, ODA hearing officer Andrew Cooke ultimately recommended that Zeh-ringer deny the request. Zehringer affirmed that opinion on June 2.