By Teresa Auch
Fixed setback distances for all large animal feeding operations have been tossed in favor of a mathematical formula that would determine distances based on a specific operation.
The decision was part of the Area Plan Commission's last meeting on an ordinance for animal feeding operations Thursday night. The entire ordinance passed 9-3, commission member Dick Treon said, after a nearly four-hour meeting. Now it must be approved individually by town councils and the Grant County commissioners.
On the new setback rules, the commission voted 8-4 Thursday night in favor of the equation, which was created by the University of Minnesota and takes into account factors such as number of buildings, number of animals and type of animals.
All those variables are used to compute the setbacks that an animal feeding operation must be from schools, towns, food processing centers and homes. Under the fixed-setback plan, such an operation, regardless of size or makeup, would have had set distances to maintain from those locations.
Commission members Mark Bardsley, Myron Brankle, Dick Treon and Dennis Fox voted against the amendment to the ordinance.
The amendment met several commission members' desire to have flexibility.
"I will say I've studied it enough to know there is no one-size-fits-all to this," commission member John Bonham said.
The commission held the special meeting to vote on sections six - which covers setbacks - and 12 of the 13 sections of the ordinance meant to regulate the feeding operations. The other 11 passed in a meeting last week.
Section six, which includes the new setback formula, passed as a whole by an 8-4 vote, with other minor changes.
The new setback rules are based on freedom of odor annoyance, allowing for only certain levels of odors and pollutants to reach nearby places. For example, the formula would require cities, towns and schools to be 97 percent odor-free, meaning there was a three-percent chance odors would be noticed from the farm.
Albert Heber, a Purdue University professor who studies air quality, told the commission equations were a better idea than set distances because they used scientific backing versus human emotion.
Commission member Karen Owen said she supported the amendment because she didn't want to make an arbitrary decision.
"This is ridiculous," Owen said. "We're just guessing whether one mile or two miles is going to work.
"I'd rather have scientific facts than a guess."
However, commission member Myron Brankle said he felt the county should have a minimum distance the animal feeding operations must meet and that the commission could later look at the equations for expanding on the minimum distance.
The commission has worked on the proposed ordinance after an Ohio developer proposed to build a 2,200-cow dairy farm near Van Buren.
Commission member John Highley said that according to a report completed by Weaver Popcorn using the Minnesota equation, the proposed farm would end up being further away than most of the original proposed distances.