Rural Indiana has been sacrificed to financial interests in Indianapolis, according to economist Bill Weida, director of the GRACE Factory Farm Project.
"The money, which could have created jobs throughout the state, has been centralized in Indianapolis, and the rest of the state is being treated like a sacrifice zone," he said.
Weida made his comments June 30 at a Hartford City gathering of citizens concerned about Gov. Mitch Daniels' plan to double pork production in the state. The previously unnamed group announced the establishment of www.indianacafowatch.com to help activists stay informed about the issue.
Characterizing the situation as "predatory," Weida said, "They're dumping pollution in one part of the state, and the economic benefit from it goes to another part of the state - in particular Indianapolis."
His remarks were greeted with enthusiastic applause from an audience that included few capital city residents.
Weida disputes the claim that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are a successful form of rural economic development.
"The whole thing is being done for the profit of a few individuals who really want to build these facilities," he said. "There's more money to be made building the facility than running it."
In his remarks he reviewed two recent studies on the economic impact of hog production in Jay and Randolph counties by the Office of Building Better Communities at Ball State University.
Weida quoted the BSU report as saying the multiplier effect of industrial livestock operations would be 1.12.
"That's terrible," he said. "That means for every dollar spent on hogs, it generates 12 cents!"
The report also indicates that the large-scale livestock industry doesn't buy feed locally - a fact borne out in May when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reported that melamine-contaminated feed from China had been used in several unnamed poultry facilities in Indiana.
The concept of economies of scale holds that costs per unit are reduced at a particular size of operation. Weida said that economies of scale don't apply to biological processes because the amount of manure grows steadily (as does the cost of disposal) and the cost of feed remains consistent per animal.
"All studies show that all economies of scale disappear at roughly 600 to 2,500 hogs and 300 to 1,000 for cattle, " he said.
CAFOs are based on the wrong economic precepts and fundamentally can't compete in the marketplace, Weida said. These operations can compete only if they cut costs by mishandling wastes and overapplying them to the surrounding land, avoiding states with strong regulations backed by strong enforcement, getting others to assume as much of their costs as possible and seeking all forms of subsidy.
Many of the Hoosiers being asked to sacrifice health, well-being and prosperity have organized a loose network to stay in touch as they try to stem the flow of manure in their rural communities. Those attending the Hartford City meeting are some of the nicest folks you'd ever want to meet; the kind of wholesome, patriotic, God-fearing, salt-of-the-earth types you see in TV commercials promoting truth, justice and the American Way.
None of them is a paid activist or lobbyist. These are the people who take time off work, travel to the Statehouse in Indianapolis, zoning board meetings or agricultural "summits" around the state and sit through endless speeches and digital presentations made by "the suits" - people paid to attend such hearings - just so they can get their two minutes of "free speech" and tell decision makers about the devastation wrought by the unregulated growth of factory farms.
The pomp and circumstance at the Indiana General Assembly can be flustering; these citizens are much more relaxed when surrounded by their peers, as they were in Hartford City. The most interesting part of the day's events was the parade of representatives from 14 counties telling their stories. The compelling narratives were of such interest that nobody enforced the 10-minute rule and no one seemed to mind that the printed agenda was ignored.
Often accused of having a Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) approach, the fact is, they don't want these industrial facilities in anybody's yard.
If their stories had a common theme, it's that "ordinary" citizens join together with their neighbors to inform elected officials and government agencies that the large-scale livestock industry threatens public health, disrupts local communities and reduces property values. And for the most part, they're ignored.
Bonnie Hahn from Huntington County is a notable exception. A wiry, gray-haired grandmother who watches children during the day, she keeps a calendar by her phone so that when one of her network of CAFO watchers calls in a violation, she can document it.
"It's important to establish credibility," she said, so she notes, date, time and type of violation. "Document everything that they do," she said. She regularly calls IDEM to report violations. "Build your character with the people at the Statehouse and at IDEM," she said. "Now when I call the Spill Line, they thank me for everything I've done."
Hahn started battling DeGroot dairy in 2002. She lives one mile west of the troubled facility. Through perseverance and indefatigable organizing, she has stitched together a coalition of farmers, fishermen and rural residents that recently compiled a petition with 22 pages of signatures supporting her call for a revocation of DeGroot's permit. IDEM revoked the permit for an operation with 1,400 cows in April, after finding manure in a creek near the dairy. Hahn's advice to other activists: "Hang in there!"
Phil Bir is a retired business consultant who has lived his entire life in LaGrange County, which is blessed with 64 natural lakes and the 12,000-acre Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area. He and retired LaGrange County public health official Bill Grant have worked with hydrogeologists to gather the best scientific data available about their county's sensitivity to groundwater contamination due to the porous conditions of the soil. Based on their research, Grant and Bir both said, "There's absolutely no good reason to put a CAFO using land application of manure in LaGrange County."
Bir said that while researching the expansion plans for a local CAFO he found evidence that the applicant may have committed perjury. When filling out IDEM's permit application, the applicant used a "fictitious entity" - a company name that was not on file with the Secretary of State's office. IDEM's form clearly states that the information provided must be true "under penalty of perjury," and Bir has a copy of the application.
When he shared this information with a local newspaper, a reporter called IDEM for a comment and was told that no action was going to be taken other than to allow the applicant an opportunity to correct the information.
Bir said that he's tired of being ignored, insulted and lied to, so he and fellow members of Hoosiers for Sustainable Agriculture are seeking a permanent injunction against that local CAFO. The group plans an additional lawsuit that will ask a federal court to decertify IDEM from regulating the Clean Water Act and turn over that function to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Diane Richardson, of Jasper County, gave an ironic twist to her county's tourism slogan, "We've got it all" by adding, "And we don't want any more!"
Her county has had CAFOs for 10 years. She said the first one got a 10-year property tax abatement and that one large-scale chicken farm had thousands of birds. "Nobody knows how many because they didn't have a permit and were under the radar," she said.
When the CAFO sought a permit, they wanted to create a manure pit and line it with fly ash from a local power generating station - a practice condoned by the various regulatory agencies of the state. Fly ash contains arsenic, mercury, cadmium and a variety of other toxins.
Richardson urged attendees to keep an eye on changes within the livestock industry. Dairies get money for methane collection, which they trade for carbon credits with polluters. She envisioned a future when carbon credits are the "product" and milk the byproduct.
She also warned groups to watch permit changes, including the sale of the permit to another entity and/or changes in the type of operation (for example, from chickens to pigs) that CAFO owners can accomplish merely by filing a Notice of Intent letter with IDEM.
Eric Stickdorn and his wife, Lisa, exemplify the likely result of Gov. Daniels' economic development plans. In addition to paying a home mortgage in Wayne County, they also rent a trailer they moved into three years ago - driven from their home by a neighbor's open cesspool just 600 feet away. "It's like an overflowing port-a-john in your bedroom," he told the crowd.
His neighbor has 100 head of cattle and thus doesn't qualify under state regulations as a CAFO, but Stickdorn said the health effects of the slurry pit's contents on him and his wife include vomiting, nausea, dizziness and burning of the eyes, lips, nose and throat. "This is a typical response to the gases of liquefied manure, " Stickdorn said, adding, "We're not wimps from the city." He and his wife have lived in the country most of their lives and raise cattle themselves, so they know what dairy air smells like. "We use rotational pasture," he said. "The animals spread it naturally. I have not had to haul manure in 10 years."
The neighboring pit measures 50 feet in diameter and 8 feet deep, with gases similar, Stickdorn notes, to those from a manure pit that recently caused the death of five people in Virginia. "Size doesn't matter, it's concentration," he said.
A member of the Church of the Brethren, Stickdorn said he has endeavored to work things out in a neighborly fashion. "I tried the Christian way," he said, talking with his neighbor to try to work through the problem. When that failed, he and his wife met with the elders from their neighbor's church, also without success. Then they pled their case to the IDEM's Office of Environmental Adjudication, and the neighbor agreed to address the situation. He sold the farm. However, the new owner hasn't made any changes. Stickdorn said there are some technical issues to address but he thinks the changes can be made quickly and economically. "We have a constitutional protection to the free use and enjoyment of our property as well as a right to equal protection under the law," he said.
Stickdorn said he has testified to various boards of zoning appeals as well as to the General Assembly and wants to see regulations that protect public health. "To ignore this is irresponsible," he said.
Thomas P. Healy can be reached at .