By DAVID GREEN
When a representative from the Michigan Department of Agriculture visited State Line Farms in 2004, she told a group of concerned citizens that problems with odors might eventually be referred to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
That’s what happened a year later. Now, after a series of violation letters and efforts by the farm owner to alleviate the smell, two large hog barns will be emptied by Nov. 9 and closed down.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” McCann said about his agency’s involvement. “Under the Right to Farm law, the DEQ can go for air quality action only if the Michigan Department of Agriculture refers it, if they think it’s significant enough.”
After trying to alleviate odors with filters and mechanical devices, farm owner Gary Gallup made the decision to close the pair of 2,000-head barns. Under a consent order from the state attorney general office, both parties agreed to depopulate the barns and face financial penalties of up to $2,000 a day for additional violations.
The farm will also pay a $28,000 settlement fee that goes into the state’s general fund.
Gallup said that he didn’t want to comment on the situation, but McCann noted that the barns could be used again if air quality standards were met.
However, he added, it’s obvious that steps taken to reduce odors were ineffective and another solution would have to be found.
“We hear a lot of complaints about farm odors,” McCann said, “but by law we can’t do anything about it unless the MDA refers it to us.”
There’s a reason this referral was made—one that was obvious to residents living nearby when the barns were constructed in 2003.
Because the location of the barns didn’t adhere to the MDA’s Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPs), protection from the Right to Farm law was lost.
According to the GAAMPs—a set of voluntary guidelines—the large capacity structures should have been built at least half a mile from non-farm residences and 600 feet back from the property line.
Instead, they were constructed near Ridgeville Road, just east of M-156, and about 100 yards from the nearest residence. Three other homes are in the vicinity of the barns.
Once the barns were put into use, neighbors began lodging complaints about strong odors. MDA representatives responded to complaints, but found no odor violation.
In July 2005, the case was referred to the DEQ under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies regarding air quality issues.
The DEQ verified several violations over the next five months and sent a letter of violation in December.
By then, trees had been planted around the facility and biofilters had been installed. A visit in August 2005 found the filters dry and inoperable.
Complaints continued into 2006 and farmer owners submitted a compliance plan that included additional devices to reduce odor.
Additional violation letters were sent in 2007 and enforcement action was initiated. Eight odor control technology units were installed at the farm in October, but according to the DEQ staff activity report, the units “have not been as successful as hoped and, therefore, State Line Farms has chosen to remove all livestock from the barns by a shutdown date of Nov. 9, 2008.”
Both parties agreed to the terms of the consent order last month.
A customary 30-day comment period on the settlement ends Aug. 6. Comments should be sent to Autumn Lawson, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, MI 48909.
Documents relating to the case are available at the DEQ website (www.michigan.gov/deqair).
The farm’s other four barns—each with a capacity of up to 1,000 pigs—conform to GAAMP siting principles and are not part of the settlement.
Weaned pigs are brought to the barns and raised to a finishing weight of about 250 pounds. They are then shipped to market and the process is repeated. Among the six barns, approximately 16,000 hogs are raised each year.