Posted on Fri, Oct. 3, 2008
By Karen Dillon
The Kansas City Star
Sides Form in State Parks Battle
Preservationists and regulators face off after Missouri issues permits for factory farms.
Last month, a Missouri court banned a factory farm from being built near Arrow Rock, citing the need to protect state parks and historic sites from odors and pollution.
But in the past two weeks, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has issued permits for four more factory farms within 15 miles of state parks, the buffer set up in the judge's order.
Now people are lining up on each side of the state parks issue — the next chapter in the continuing controversy over massive industrial farms in Missouri.
On one side are preservationists, environmentalists, traditional farmers and others who fear that the new permits signal that the factory farm industry is expanding unchecked into the state's most pristine and historic areas.
"This is a threat to potentially any park or historic site in the state," said Susan Flader, a Missouri Parks Association board member and University of Missouri professor emeritus. "How many others are in the hopper?"
On the other side are the DNR, the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Farm Bureau and other agri-associations.
Limiting the number of factory farms would cause "very serious harm to Missouri agriculture," Farm Bureau President Charlie Kruse said in a statement.
The four permits recently issued:
Two farms that will house 9,600 hogs and are estimated to be 11 to 14 miles from Mark Twain State Park and two state historical sites, Mark Twain's birthplace and Union Covered Bridge.
Two farms that will house 350,000 chickens and are estimated to be about 11 miles from Big Sugar Creek State Park and Huckleberry Ridge State Forest in the southwest corner of Missouri.
At issue is a judge's August ruling — and how broad or narrow it was.
A farmer near the historic village of Arrow Rock had received a permit to build an indoor hog farm, but two groups sued to stop him.
Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia S. Joyce ruled that such operations should be banned within 15 miles of a state park or historical site. If farms are located too close, Joyce wrote, those sites would be exposed to "odors and volatile and dangerous airborne pollutants."
She also pointed out that DNR's director was the state historic preservation officer and had failed to protect Arrow Rock and the state's other parks.
DNR Director Doyle Childers said in an interview last week that he did not think he was defying Joyce's order by issuing the new permits. The ruling was unclear about whether it addressed all state parks or just Arrow Rock, he said.
Besides, he said, he is bound by state law to grant permits that meet state regulations.
"It catches us between a rock and a hard spot," Childers said. "We would be violating state law on one side if we didn't issue the permits, and the judge's order doesn't really clearly address it."
"DNR is just flying in the face of the judge's decision," said Dick Miller, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the Arrow Rock case, who said the ruling was clear. "It looks like they are taking the courts head-on."
How the issue is resolved is being watched around the country, said Rhonda Perry, program director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which supports traditional family farms. On Wednesday, DNR attorneys asked Joyce to vacate her Arrow Rock ruling or rule in favor of DNR.
The Missouri Farm Bureau also filed a motion supporting DNR, and several other groups are seeking to intervene on DNR's behalf.
In addition, the Missouri Department of Agriculture has issued a statement urging DNR to pursue its legal action.
The Missouri Parks Association, one of the plaintiffs in the Arrow Rock case, has 10 days to respond to DNR's request.
The nonprofit group, which seeks to protect Missouri parks, also is considering legal action to try to force DNR to withdraw the new permits.
Flader said the permits were a surprise and wondered why so many had been issued so quickly in light of the judge's ruling.
She also said it was time that the state's regulatory agencies started recognizing the health hazards that factory farms created because they were welldocumented in studies.
"We've been told all these years by our officials in Missouri there are no health problems," Flader said. "People who have responsibility to deal with that just haven't acknowledged it."
But Perry said building had already begun, so it would be difficult to halt.
"Once they start building, a judge is unlikely to say we are going to renege on your permit," Perry said.
The arguments are fierce among neighbors where the new farms are being built.
Gary Windmann and his brother are building two farms south of Mark Twain State Park that will hold 9,600 hogs, and neighbors have confronted him.
"I've been told to my face that if we proceed with this we are going to be sorry," Windmann said. "It's a form of terrorism."
Just a year ago, his nephew was spreading animal waste on a field at a nearby site and a man angry about the odor aimed a gun at him and then shot out the tires of a wagon, Windmann said.
Windmann said he did not think the farms' odors were as bad as some people say, and he questioned whether they were a health hazard. He said he thought some studies may have been biased.
"Most of the stuff I've read, they use language like, 'it may,' 'possibly,' 'potentially,' " he said. "There is no concrete stuff."
In addition, he said, one of his brothers has had an industrial farm since 1991 and has had no ill effects.
"He and his family and his sons and his grandchildren have been in these facilities repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly and they haven't been sick one time with any of these symptoms that some of the people say they cause," he said.
But his neighbor Glenn Phillips said a petition opposing the farms had garnered a couple hundred signatures and was given to DNR.
"DNR just runs over you like a steam engine," he said. "There isn't anything that any of us can do about this."
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