This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Not your typical pig farm

Both the Jasper County Board of Zoning Appeals and the Jasper County Plan Commission met on Monday evening. At 7:00 the BZA opened its meeting to an overflow crowd, with far more people than could be seated. It was hard to tell what brought them all out as there were three very interesting items on the agenda. But before they got into the agenda, they needed to elect a president or chairman for the coming year. They re-elected James Martin.

The aspects of the first item on the agenda have been discussed in the past at the Commissioners meeting, the drainage board, and the BZA. It was continued at the request of the petitioner until the next meeting.

The second item, the Recovery House proposal, was the subject of a long and contentious meeting last month. The BZA decided to postpone a decision then, but was ready to decide this month. They approved the variance to allow more than a single family home on the property, but put two restrictions on it. It will be for two years and then must be renewed, and no more than eight clients are to be in the facility. With the granting of the use variance a big group of people left, but there were still people standing around the edges of the room.

The last item was for a variance for a proposed hog farm, but because it has been customary to do the rezoning before the variance, the BZA meeting recessed and the Plan Commission convened. They also elected a chair. The previous chair, Sandra Putt, said she did not want the position again, the group elected Gerritt DeVries as chair.

The only item on the Plan Commission agenda was a rezone from A1 (general agriculture) to A3 (intensive agriculture), and this rezone is needed for a confined feeding operation. The proposed hog farm surprised me because the hogs that are to be raised there were not meant for the butcher, but for medical research.
The company that will own the farm already runs a hog raising operation in Ramona, California, and a picture of that facility is shown in the slide above. (The petitioners had an impressive slide presentation.) Ramona is on the outskirts of San Diego and there are many residences within a mile of the S&S Farm. The proposed site for this farm is on the south west corner of CR 400 N and 200W in Barkley Township. It is a 220 acre plot a couple miles west of Gifford.
A typical hog farm raises hogs until they are full grown or nearly full grown and then sells them. Medical researchers do not usually want really large pigs. They prefer them much smaller. As a result, almost all of the pigs are sold before they reach 150 pounds, and some at much smaller sizes. One breed of pigs that the farm will raise is Yucatan pigs, which are pigmy pigs that weigh less than 200 pounds at maturity and seem to be raised primarily for medical research.

Another difference with this proposed farm is that it will hire more people than a typical hog farm would. The manager of the project projects that if the facility is fully built out, it would hire 21 people. The project is planned in four stages, largely to test the market. The first stage is shown in red in the picture below and stage two in green.
The presenters went into great detail explaining why this farm would not have the odors that a typical hog farm has. It would not have the typical fans but rather would filter air coming in and going out. The average size of the pigs will be smaller than in a typical farm, reducing manure. The manure troughs under the floor will be shallow and flushed every week or two, reducing the build up of smell. The whole building is sealed and will have a positive air pressure, in large part for biosecurity. (If you have ever toured the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks farms, you know that keeping the pigs away from sources of disease is very important, but it is far more important in pigs raised for medical research.)

The owner of S&S Farms showed two letters he had obtained about his Ramora facility to demonstrate that this farm would have minimal impact on neighbors. One was from the owners of a paint ball park that is adjacent to his property and they said that they had never had any problems with having his hogs next door. The other was from a county supervisor saying that there were no records of complaints filed about the farm.

Then the meeting opened for public comments and most of them were from people living near the site who said they did not want the smell of a pig farm. A couple said that the farm would reduce the value of their property to zero. There were concerns raised about water quality and water level. A couple comments went so far as to suggest that the letters were faked or that someone should go to California to check the claims made. (This is a wonderful example of the problem of cognitive dissonance: a prior belief, evidence the belief is wrong, and the need to reconcile the two.) A couple people connected to Belstra Milling spoke up in defense of the farm but they were dismissed by the people opposed. Also in favor of the project were the two people who represent Jasper County Economic Development Organization. Their job is to bring new business to the county that hires people and that adds to the tax rolls, and the tax revenue from farm operations exceeds the added cost of services (which is not true of residences.) They indicated that they had searched the four neighboring counties for properties that would be more appropriate for the project and found none. Our whole area has been divided into many small parcels of land, almost all less than 200 acres in size and there are residences scattered throughout the countryside because many people want to live in the country.

At about 10:10 (the meeting started at 7:00) the Plan Commission finally voted on the rezone. I could see one vote negative and I think there was one person who did not vote, but the motion passed. It is a recommendation to the County Commissioners, who will have final say at their Feb 5 meeting.

Then the BZA reconvened to consider the proposal for a variance. The Code says that the foundation of a CFO must be 1320 feet from a residence and 1000 feet from A1-zoned land. The site of the proposed facility met the 1320-foot requirement, but it was only 425 feet from a farm field to the north (someone else owns a narrow, 8-acre wedge that goes deep into 220 acre lot that was the subject of rezoning) and it was about 600 feet from fields to the south. After spending some time questioning if the facility could be positioned in a different way on the plot, the Board approved the variance subject to the Commissioners approving the rezone.

The meeting adjourned at about 10:30.

(The Rensselaer Republican account of the meeting is here.)


Mary Pitstick said...

Pigs are not inherently stinky, but all hog manure is. When one person's hogs are not allowed, but another huge operation is allowed, something smells to high heaven. It is called discrimination. Much dirtier than any hog I have ever smelled.

Gary said...

The final vote regarding the positive recommendation for the rezone was 6 FOR and 2 AGAINST. And regarding the above comment: The two issues are quite different. Location is the difference, NOT discrimination.

Anonymous said...

"...someone should go to California to check the claims made. (This is a wonderful example of the problem of cognitive dissonance: a prior belief, evidence the belief is wrong, and the need to reconcile the two.)"

Sounds like due diligence to me.