Concerned residents in Livingston County gathered at the courthouse last week wanting to speak not onto county commissioners, but Mark White, the county’s legal counsel, and Robert Brundage, attorney for the Missouri Pork Association and the Missouri Cattleman’s Association. Ultimately though, many of those gathered, including the three former county commissioners who signed the county’s current health ordinances 20 years ago - Eva Horton, Max Smith and Ken Lauhoff wanted to ensure their voices were being heard.
Brundage asked County Commissioners - Ed Douglas, Alvin Thompson and Dave Ample for the meeting to discuss Livingston County’s current health ordinances and how they, in his opinion, will be impacted due to Senate Bill 391, a law passed last year by Missouri Legislators that could change county health ordinances. One of the biggest questions is if the law is going to be applied retroactively, said St. Louis area Attorney Stephen Jeffery who is representing a group of Livingston County residents who call themselves the Poosey Neighbors United.
Senate Bill 391, was passed during the 2019 legislative session and was signed by Gov. Mike Parson on May 17, it went into law in Missouri on Aug. 28, 2019.
Senate Bill 319, — prohibits county commissions and county health departments from passing regulations stricter than any state regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which are industrial-sized livestock operations.
The law reads: ”Under this act, any orders, ordinances, rules, or regulations promulgated by county commissions and county health center boards shall not impose standards or requirements on an agricultural operation and its appurtenances that are inconsistent with or more stringent than any provisions of law, rules, or regulations relating to the Department of Health and Senior Services, environmental control, the Department of Natural Resources, air conservation, and water pollution.”
Under the law, a new or expansion of an existing facility would not occur until the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had issued an operating permit. CAFO applicants would have to demonstrate to DNR they can meet several rules and design criteria, and applicants must prove they are a legal company; provide neighbor notices; meet buffer distances; and provide plans for animal management, manure generation and nutrient management.
Brundage addressed several current ordinances, he sees an issue with, including the fees assessed to applicants, some language about who is in control of the land, and the county’s requirement for public hearings, which he says DNR does not require.
“I would submit public hearings do not need to be mandatory,” Brundage said. “For a county to hold a public hearing for every permit - even for smaller operations - seems unnecessary.”
Brundage also cautioned commissioners to make sure definitions within the ordnance be in-line with DNR definitions, stating that he and his clients would be paying attention to what county ordinances were more strict than DNR’s.
“I would like to say this is one of few counties that is moving quickly to improve the regulatory climate in your area and improve possible livestock markets in your county as well,” Brundage said.
White stated that the commission had worked hard to ensure that the health ordinances in Livingston county did not do more or less than required to do so with Senate Bill 391.
Jeffery was the first audience member to make public comment on the matter, on behalf of several also in attendance.
“Senate Bill 391 doesn’t invalidate any past health ordinances it says in the future you must comply - in the future, but doesn’t change existing ordinances,” Jeffery said.
Brundage disagreed with Jeffrey’s interpretation of the law and encouraged the commissioners not to wait on the court’s decision on a case out of Cole County, that has been ongoing and could set the precedent for the implementation and interpretation for Senate Bill 391 across the state.
“There are livestock operations and operators who are ready to make a move to this county and I encourage you to act swiftly because I predict you are going to have an application in this county in the next month - and what are you going to do,” Brundage asked. “Tell them you are going to wait on a decision from the Missouri Supreme Court?”
White said the county does stand to lose a lot of control of health ordinances, depending on how the new law is interpreted.
Presiding Commissioner Douglas noted there are no applications for any large livestock confinements called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs in the county at this time.
“We are discussing the ordinances, not any specific application,” Douglas stated.
Many county residents said they have heard of plans for a CAFO just miles from the Poosey Conservation Area, along Missouri Highway W.
Doug Doty, resident and member of the Jackson Township Board was the large operation he and others are worried about poses a host of damages to rural roadways like Missouri Highways Y, A, W, U and 190, along with miles of county roads. He told the commissioners that an 80,000 pound 18-wheeler does as much damage to a gravel road as the traffic from 9,600 cars.
“I support the health ordnance, and it does not ban a CAFO it requires responsibility,” Doty said adding that a 36-acre CAFO would create as much waste as a town the size of Warrensburg, Kirksville or Sedalia.
Other are residents spoke asking Brundage if he would want to live in area where a large CAFO was planned then the three-county commissioners who signed health ordinances 20 years ago, Horton, Lauhoff and Smith all spoke.
Smith, a former pork producer said he and most others are not against having animal operations in the area.
“I don’t understand why you don’t want to be good neighbors, we didn’t and don’t want to keep hogs out of the county just away from people,” Smith said noting current ordinances require large livestock operations be at least two miles out of city limits and within a certain distance away from schools.
Lauhoff stated he felt the ordinances he helped established worked well.
“We researched and researched as we wrote these ordinances,” he said. “We didn’t want to make them so strict we couldn’t have a combined feeding or livestock operation in Livingston County and you still cal you just have to follow the ordinances.”
Brundage stated there have been no new CAFOs apply for an application in Livingston County in the 20 years since the ordinances were passed.
“So basically there is a big sign outside the county that saying, ‘not welcome here’. That is not good business and that is not being neighborly,” he said.
Many residents who spoke mentioned fear of water and air contamination.
A representative of Tabletop Farms spoke and he feared some of the operations that could be allowed to move in without the ordinances would impact that organic farming operation with an overwhelming amount of flies and other issues.
At the end of the nearly 90-minute meeting, Douglas told those attending this would be a matter discussed multiple times by the commission.
The public is also invited to attend a meeting at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday in the courthouse to meet with officials from DNR to discuss the matter further, including DNR’s specific requirements.