Judge orders revocation of hog farm permit near Arrow Rock

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | 7:53 p.m. CDT


COLUMBIA - A Cole County judge has ordered the state Department of Natural Resources to revoke the permit of a hog farm proposed near historic Arrow Rock.

Associate Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce's decision on Monday is largely moot: With his permit for a 4,800-head indoor hog farm set to expire on Saturday and no visible construction under way, owner Dennis Gessling has apparently lost interest in the project.

But the judge's broadly worded, 16-page ruling - which prohibits any concentrated animal feeding operations within 15 miles of Arrow Rock and "nearby historic sites" such as the Sappington Cemetery - could have far broader implications for Missouri agriculture, DNR director Doyle Childers said.

"We can't do something in one part of the state and not do the same thing in other parts of the state," Childers said in an interview Tuesday.

At least 10 CAFOs and a research facility fall within the 30-mile radius cited in Joyce's ruling, Childers said. The agency will likely appeal Joyce's ruling, he added.

"Basically, it says historic preservation trumps everything else," Childers said. "It has some very far-reaching impact that goes beyond agriculture.

"It sounds like it could have been written by the Sierra Club," he added.

Joyce's ruling takes DNR's private attorney in the case to task for failing to respond to a request by the Friends of Arrow Rock, the village's government and the Missouri Parks Association for 149 different legal admissions first filed on May 19 and due 30 days later.

The attorney, Scott Hamblin of Jefferson City, then filed a request for a time extension and a subsequent objection to the request over the next two days.

Hamblin presented the court a related appellate court decision covering missed deadlines at a July 21 hearing, but Joyce rejected that submission for not "setting forth any factual basis which would entitle DNR" to miss the deadline.

As a result, the judge accepted as fact the contentions outlined in the three plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment about the negative impact of factory farms - from air pollution to historical degradation to health risks.

Hamblin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Childers said he was trying to determine why the agency's lawyer missed the deadline.

The ruling notes that along with issuing water quality permits for agricultural operations, DNR is also bound by law to protect state parks. Past decisions such as approving construction of a large chicken farm near Roaring River State Park in southwest Missouri have not met those legal standards, Joyce said.

Susan Flader, a retired MU history professor and past president of the parks association, said her colleagues were cautiously optimistic about the court decision.

"We have never been able to get DNR to acknowledge that they have an obligation to protect state parks and historic sites that's concurrent with their responsibility to issue water permits," she said.



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