Posted on Aug. 27, 2008
The Marshall Democrat-News

Judge Rules in Favor of Arrow Rock CAFO Opponents

The future of confined animal feeding operations in Saline County is uncertain after Associate Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce ruled in Cole County Circuit Court Monday, Aug. 25, in favor of Arrow Rock opponents to Dennis Gessling's proposed CAFO two miles from the village.

The judgment specifies a 15-mile buffer zone around state historic sites in which CAFOs cannot be permitted and cannot operate.

The judgment not only specifically stops Gessling's proposed CAFO, but appears to forbid any CAFO from operating within that zone. CAFO operators are also forbidden to "transport, spread or otherwise deposit or dispopse of any waste from its operation within a 15-mile radius from the Village of Arrow Rock, nearby State Historic Sites and National-listed Prairie Park."

However, the original suit asked the court to order the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to revoke Gessling's construction permit -- which was issued Aug. 31, 2007 -- and did not specifically ask for a buffer zone, although it did request "such further relief that the court deems just and proper under the circumstances."

Richard Miller, attorney for the Arrow Rock group of organizations, was not available for comment Wednesday morning.

Construction of Gessling's facility never got under way and a story in The Columbia Tribune last week noted that he had not filed to extend the permit.

In February 2007 state Rep. Jeff Harris (D-Columbia) introduced a bill that would have required a five-mile CAFO-free buffer zone around historic sites in the state, but the bill did not make it to the floor of the House.

DNR Director Doyle Childers, a defendant in the suit, said the ruling would effectively stop construction of CAFOs in the state, according to the Globe story.

At least 10 CAFOs and a research facility fall within the 30-mile range cited in Joyce's ruling, Childers said in an Associated Press report. The agency will likely appeal Joyce's ruling, he added.

"Basically, it says historic preservation trumps everything else," Childers said. "It has some very far-reaching impact that goes beyond agriculture."

The ruling notes that along with issuing water quality permits for agricultural operations, DNR is also bound by law to protect state parks. Past decisions such as approving construction of a large chicken farm near Roaring River State Park in southwest Missouri have not met those legal standards, Joyce said.

The Friends of Arrow Rock and another Arrow Rock-based organization, Citizens to Protect State Parks and Historic Sites, which was not a party to the suit, have maintained since the controversy began that the DNR cannot adequately regulate CAFOs and protect state parks when the interests of the two come into conflict.

DNR officials, who held a public meeting in Marshall to discuss Gessling's CAFO permit application in July 2007, maintain that they can only do what state laws and regulations specify, and in the case of the application to build a CAFO near Arrow Rock, all regulations were met before the permit was issued.

"Good news for Arrow Rock," said Kathy Borgman, executive director of the Friends of Arrow Rock. The organization was joined in filing the suit in October by the village of Arrow Rock and the Missouri Parks Association.

Tom Hall, president of the Friends of Arrow Rock, said the organization's mission is one of education and preservation and it doesn't generally oppose CAFOs -- except any that appear to threaten the village or its state historic site.

"We were very pleased" with the ruling, he said. "We feel the court has very simply told the DNR to do what it should have been doing all along, protecting the state parks."

Joyce's ruling also chides DNR attorney Scott Hamblin of Jefferson City for failing to meet several deadlines to respond to 149 requests for admission by the plaintiffs in the case.

"The law of Missouri is absolutely clear that since DNR failed to response to Plaintiffs' Request for Adminssions within the 30 day time period mandated by Rule 59.01(d), the Request for Admissions are all deemed true in all respects and binding upon DNR in the context of Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment," Joyce said in the ruling.

Information from The Associated Press included in this story.

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