The Whitley County Commissioners recently voted to approve a new zoning designation called AGP or agricultural production district on 95 acres of land about a half mile from Goose Lake. This will allow a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) to house 160,000 chickens in four barns. Also passed was a half-mile buffer around lake districts that is not adequate to protect the health and safety of surrounding neighbors. It took the commissioners less than one minute to vote on these issues and they offered no explanation nor discussion. Their approach was short-sided and set back efforts to adopt better zoning rules.
Our local zoning ordinances do not address concerns related to industrial-scale livestock facilities (CFOs or the larger CAFOs). These farming operations stress local infrastructure and resources, and lower property values around them. They increase air and water pollution, and pose risks to human health. Presently, it is possible for thousands of hogs, cattle or tens of thousands of chickens to be your next-door neighbor, and you have very limited say about it.
It is up to each county to set guidelines on how many and where CFOs can locate. Whitley County allows factory farms in any AG or AGP area; about 90 percent of the county, and there are few restrictions to the number or density of these farms. A recent newspaper article showed a map of the county and location of 28 CFOs . Most are clustered in the southwest portion of the county but there are new CFOs in close proximity to the lakes and rural subdivisions.
State or local entities do not regulate property values, public road conditions, where industrial-scale farms can locate, disposal of dead animals, ground water use, traffic (feed trucks, manure trucks, and animal trucks), odors, or vectors (flies, mosquitoes). Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) regulates water quality and manure management but monitoring and penalties are limited. Manure can be spread along public roads and property lines with as little as zero to 50-foot setbacks depending on slope of the ground and type of manure/injection.
Industrial-scale livestock facilities change the character of our county. While they are promoted as the future of agriculture we cannot allow our county government to turn its back on better zoning laws that protect the interests and well being of all citizens, and the environment.
Since municipalities have a two-mile buffer where intensive agricultural practices are prohibited, then this standard should also apply to lake districts, rural subdivisions, and other at-risk areas. We need to insist on safer buffer zones and updating the county master plan to better address concerns related to changes in agricultural practices.