By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
When animal-growing operations grow to a significant level, they are commonly referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or simply, CAFOs.
For more than a year, neighbors in the Calvert area have visited the county administration building, expressing their concerns about having tens of thousands of chickens grown near their homes and schools. They have demanded a health study and changes in zoning to restrict CAFO development.
The Cecil County Council has not committed to a health study, but they recently agreed to form a committee to look at all of the issues and regulation possibilities for CAFOs.
For 90 minutes on Tuesday night, the newly-formed CAFO committee worked to set parameters for their group. The committee has a mandate to propose zoning and other CAFO regulations to the County Council by October.
With only a few meetings set to meet that deadline, the committee hit the ground running, facilitator Lisa Cameron steered the group through introductions, goals and considerations of possible topics for regulations. The list of topics was made from the zoning regulations from other jurisdictions with CAFOs.
The CAFO committee is comprised of a variety of people.
The Calvert Community Alliance has two members. They are Keith McKenica and Cindy Smith.
The Cecil County Farm Bureau has two members: Don Moore and Bob Miller
At-large citizens are Jack Schammel, Chris Diebold, Don Harmer and John Barteld.
Fred VonStaden from the Health Department is on the committee as is Perry Willis from Cecil County Public Schools. The Delmarva Poultry Industry is represented by Bill Satterfield.
All of the members of the Cecil County Council are ex-officio members of the CAFO committee. This week, Bob Meffley and Dan Schneckenburger attended the meeting.
Cameron said she wanted an atmosphere of collaboration and respect.
The group began by prioritizing what they think is important to the county. Its members agreed that the environment, public health, property values and economic development are important to farmers and residents. A couple of the committee members said they wished to start their tenure on the CAFO committee by listening and gathering information before they added to the discussion.
VonStaden from the Health Department said his office handles a significant number of conflicts among adjacent property owners.
Diebold, who is a real estate agent, said that property values are a primary concern professionally, but personally, he wants to maintain the right of an individual to utilize their property as they wish.
A robust business community and the maintenance of a good quality of life was seen as important by at-large committee member Barteld.
“I like to think we are the true environmentalists,” said farmer Miller.
Speaking for the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Satterfield told the group there has been very few poultry house construction projects in recent years. Some poultry farmers have retired and some old chicken houses have been demolished. He said the poultry industry has voluntarily come up with regulations that meet and often exceed government standards and regulations for poultry farming with Perdue leading the way.
Utilizing topics mentioned in other poultry zoning regulations, the CAFO committee started going down the list.
Immediately, the group realized they did not have all of the information they needed. They were asked to consider if CAFOs should be restricted to SAR and NAR by special exception. Some in the group did not know that zoning and had no idea of details of the zoning map of the county. Cameron said the group will get the information they need.
It was also discussed if CAFOs should be banned from areas within the 100-year floodplain. Again, the group asked for more information.
Ten acres has been proposed for the minimum-sized lot for CAFOs. Some on the committee said that if decisions are made as to setback and buffer requirements, lot size will not matter.
The group will also discuss if there should be a limit of up to five houses totaling 225,000 square feet for CAFOs.
The setbacks and buffer zones received a lot of attention from the group. If the setback is 200 feet and there are requirements of the number of feet between a chicken house and a structure on an adjoining property, it was discussed how that could possibly adversely affect the adjoining property owner’s rights to further develop their property.
As for the suggested 25 foot-wide band of vegetation within the setback, some wondered what type of trees and shrubs should be planted. Satterfield said that some types of trees better absorb dust and other products around the houses.
The group touched on the need to handle 75% of the waste from the houses on the property and the possibility of tying plans for the manure shed, compost equipment and carcass disposal together in the approval process.
Satterfield said that while limiting CAFOs to NAR and SAR would be okay with the Delmarva Poultry Industry, “we would be opposed to the special exception requirement.”
Willis said the group might want to consider a height limit for CAFO buildings.
“Ammonia is a public health concern,” Smith said, reminding the group that the Calvert Community Alliance has asked for a health study that would take about four months and cost $7,000.
Smith said while people may be able to handle brief high doses of ammonia, a lifetime level of ammonia has to be in a low concentration to avoid long-term bad health effects.
Wicomico County had a health study, but Smith said it was criticized by professionals, including a Johns Hopkins officials who questioned its methods and findings.
Councilman Schneckenburger said he thought the group should still read through that study.
The CAFO committee will next meet on August 22 at 7 p.m. in the county administration building.