The Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) issued a formal decision upholding permits that were issued to Rodney and Michelle Ozbun to operate a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) on property the couple owns near Roaring River State Park.
The decision, which was handed down March 25, denies the request to withdraw and cancel the Ozbuns' construction and operating permits that were issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) back in March and August of 2007. The permits gave the Ozbuns permission to construct and operate a 65,000-capacity pullet operation on their farm, which is located on Highway F east of the park.
A group of concerned citizens, who organized under the name of the Roaring River Park Alliance, have actively opposed the CAFO and its proximity to the state park since the permits were first issued. A formal appeal was filed with the State Administrative Hearing Commission on Aug. 30, 2007.
The appeal hearing was held on Jan. 8, 2009, in Jefferson City. The Ozbuns were represented at the hearing by the Jefferson City law firm of Schreimann, Rackers, Francka and Blunt. The Roaring River Park Alliance was represented by Springfield attorney John Price.
In their case, the petitioners offered evidence concerning odor and air quality issues. This evidence was ruled "irrelevant" to the permit because the Clean Water Commission has no authority over anything other than the protection of Missouri waters.
In addition, the petitioners cited a case ruled upon by the Cole County Circuit Court that revoked a DNR construction permit for a specific hog operation because it was located within two miles of the Village of Arrow Rock, Arrow Rock State Historic Site and the Sappington Cemetery State Historic site. AHC members ruled that the permit revocation was specific to the Arrow Rock sites and did not extend to any other state park, such as Roaring River.
According to the AHC's written decision, state law requires a CAFO that houses between 1,000 to 2,999 animal units to be located at least 1,000 feet from any public building or occupied residence. The Ozbuns' operation is permitted to house up to 1,093 animal units and is located more than 1,000 feet from Roaring River State Park.
The decision also upheld the permit in relation to proper litter application, waste load, litter stockpiling and construction permit application details.
The final argument presented by permit opponents claimed that the facility should not have been permitted because DNR cannot show that the operation adequately protects the environment.
In responding to that claim, the decision reads: "The thread running throughout the petitioners' case is that the entire permitting process is inadequate to protect the environment as a whole. They envision DNR having broad authority to issue a permit addressing air quality, water quality, odor control and protection of parks and other resources. This may be an ideal situation. But this is not the way the law is currently written."
In conclusion, the AHC ruled that DNR complied with established standards in issuing the operating permit for the Ozbun CAFO and that the facility has been operating for over a year with no documented violations of any statute, regulation or permit condition.
|The Ozbuns have continued operating their pullet farm while they fought the appeal of their permits. The operation is currently housing its fifth flock of chickens.|
"We've been operating under the DNR permit and never had any problems," said Michelle Ozbun. "DNR has come out and inspected us on numerous occasions. We've been following everything to a T like I said we would."
Michelle said she was glad the AHC had issued their decision.
"I always knew it would turn out this way, because we have done things to the letter," said Michelle. "I've had more people come up to me and apologize and pat me on the back. They had been scared to death by things they were told, which weren't true. Everyone tells me they can't smell (the chickens) at all. I always told people they'd never even know I was here."
Jim Reidel, president of the Roaring River Parks Alliance, said he was disappointed to learn of the AHC's ruling and he hopes people will understand why the group is fighting the Ozbuns' permit.
"Some people misunderstand and think we have something against the Ozbuns," said Riedel. "We are against DNR. We don't feel they are doing enough to protect our water and natural resources. Anyone can put a CAFO wherever they want and that's not in the best interest of our air and water."
The decision made by the AHC will now go back to the Missouri Clean Water Commission recommending the governing body deny the request to cancel the Ozbuns' permits to construct and operate their CAFO.