The Christian County Commission asked for fast action, or at least quick exploration, by two other boards. According to the commission’s attorney, any moves would have to happen about three times faster than normal if Christian County is to adopt any local laws regulating confined animal feeding operations (CAFO).
A dozen people were in the Christian County Commission’s meeting chamber on Aug. 1, as the commission took input on changes to state laws regulating CAFOs.
Attorney John Housley apprised the commissioners on the passage of Senate Bill 391 by the Missouri General Assembly in 2019.
Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu made a motion directing the Christian County Health Department Board of Trustees and the Christian County Planning and Zoning Commission to explore what action could be taken to regulate CAFOs at the local level between now and Aug. 28, when the new state regulations become effective.
“I honestly doubt that there’s anything that we can do, but I want to offer a motion,” Bilyeu said. He made a motion directing the two boards, “to immediately consider possible changes to our regulations to provide greater protection for the health and wellbeing of the citizens of Christian County.”
After some discussion, Presiding Commissioner Ralph Phillips seconded Bilyeu’s directive. It passed by a 2-1 vote, with Bilyeu and Phillips voting in its favor and Eastern District Commissioner Mike Robertson voting “no.”
“I think we’re pretty well doing what we can do now, and I don’t see what else we can do,” Robertson said.
The new state law
Senate Bill 391 modified a long existing law about public health regulations. County commissions or county health department boards of directors are barred from enacting local health ordinances that conflict with state law or the regulations enforced by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Senate Bill 391, Housley explained, took that further and prohibits counties or cities from imposing agricultural standards as ordinances that would be more stringent than what is spelled out in state law and enforced by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
“We do regulate CAFOs, it’s not like we’re not,” Housley said. “These are political issues at the end of the day more than legal ones.”
Senate Bill 391 takes effect Aug. 28, 2019. New zoning regulations or health codes in Christian County, Housley said, generally take at least 90 days to go from conception to adaptation.
“We’ve got to go through planning and zoning hearings, those have to be noticed up so many days, public hearings, and it’s got to go through board of adjustment after that. Those things usually take about three months,” Housley said.
CAFOs are already regulated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and by the county’s existing zoning regulations for agricultural property.
“If everybody is satisfied with our current zoning regulations and building codes as it pertains to CAFOs, than this is not going to have any effect on us at all,” Housley said.
Christian County currently has no large scale concentrated animal feeding operations, as defined by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Such an operation would only be allowed if it were built in an agriculturally-zoned area, and it would require a conditional use permit approved by the Christian County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Christian County Commission.
Stone County is home to three animal feeding operations, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. All three are poultry operations, where farmers raise either chickens or turkeys. Perkins Farms, a turkey farm west of Spokane in Stone County, is the closest CAFO to Christian County.
An animal feeding operation, by state law, is defined as a facility that “confines, stables or feeds animals for 45 days or more in a 12-month period and a ground cover of vegetation is not sustained over at least 50 percent of the confinement area,” according to the DNR.
To be classified as a confined animal feeding operation, the facility must confine more than 2,500 swine, 100,000 broiler chickens, 700 dairy cows or 1,000 beef steers.
The nearest class IA CAFO, the highest impact operation according to the DNR, is a chicken egg production facility in Neosho in Newton County. A class IA, the highest density classification for DNR water quality permits, must have at least seven times the minimum specified by state law, so the Neosho facility would have at least 700,000 chickens.
The DNR does not track or keep records for any operations with less than the minimum number of animals specified by law.
Though the 2-1 vote by the commissioners was split, the discussion was civil but passionate. Phillips voted to support Bilyeu’s directive, but also expressed support for the current zoning regulations in Christian County.
“I have full confidence in our planning and zoning board that if you look at the regulations in our conditional use permit, we’re in pretty good shape,” Phillips said.
Bilyeu acknowledged that his motion may not result in any action.
The discussion in the commission chamber in Ozark attracted some out-of-town guests.
B.J. Tanksley, Director of State Legislative Affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, shared the organization’s support for Senate Bill 391. Tanksley said that the new law may prove beneficial for Missouri farmers, including about 17,000 Christian County families who are registered members of the Farm Bureau.
“You are lucky you are growing. A lot of our counties across the state aren’t. The truth of the matter is no one is asking to site these things in the middle of urban centers, that’s just not happening,” Tanksley said. “They’re not coming next door to neighborhoods, that’s not what they’re looking for.”
Ozark residents Joe Pitts said he worked for the DNR for 24 years, two and a half of those years enforcing the Clean Water Act.
“I don’t anymore trust that regulatory framework. The last line of defense I as a citizen have is to come to you, my local representatives, and say to you that there is a concerted effort to take away my rights by taking away the rights of the county to protect itself. Just because (CAFOs) are not here now doesn’t mean they won’t be here 10 years from now,” Pitts said.
Bilyeu thinks the odds of an agricultural corporation seeking out Christian County as the site for a feeding operation are slim.
“in the last two years that I’ve been here (as a county commissioner), we’ve had no CAFO seek to come and we’ve been under the state regulations and so forth, and so there is a reason in my mind why they’re not choosing to come to Christian County,” Bilyeu said.
Ozark resident Jim Billedo called on the county commission to act before the state law takes effect.
“If you don’t do something to curb the odor and stuff from these (CAFOs) if they come here, people aren’t going to come here,” Billedo said. “Go to Iowa and talk to those people up there. That’s the reason they’re trying to come down here is because they’ve done ruined it in Iowa. My opinion is if we don’t, as a county, get something on the books right now to control what we can, it’s going to be—it’s not going to be a healthy thing for any of us.”
It’s estimated that Iowa has more than 10,000 CAFOs of all sizes. Missouri, by contrast, has about 500 that are subject to clean water regulation by the DNR.