Judge revises ruling on CAFO proposed for Arrow Rock

Thursday, December 11, 2008 | 6:05 p.m. CST; updated 11:09 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 11, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY —  A judge who in August blocked a proposed hog farm near Arrow Rock has revised her ruling to let animal feeding operations locate closer to the historic site, though attorneys involved in the case disagreed Thursday on what the change means.

Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce ruled this summer that a concentrated animal feeding operation could not be within 15 miles of Arrow Rock — a historic mid-Missouri village set on a Missouri River bluff. In a revised ruling issued Tuesday, Joyce replaced the 15-mile buffer with a narrower 2-mile zone.

The Department of Natural Resources estimates there are 450 concentrated animal feeding operations in Missouri. Currently, larger livestock farms must be set off from public or inhabited buildings, with the largest operations required to give a 3,000 foot buffer.

The Arrow Rock case stems from Dennis Gessling's attempt to expand the capacity of his farm located a few miles outside the village by 4,800 hogs. The state permit to add the additional livestock expired Aug. 30.

"The DNR has approved the Gessling Application; and if the DNR should allow the construction of the Gessling CAFO to proceed and then allow the Gessling CAFO to operate, the Gessling CAFO will generate noxious fumes and stench and these noxious fumes and stench will cripple the tourist industry in the Village of Arrow Rock area," Joyce said in her revised ruling.

But it's unclear whether the amended decision affects all proposed farming operations around Arrow Rock or just Gessling's farm.

Kara Valentine, the general counsel for the Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday that Joyce's revised holding should affect only Gessling's permit. Valentine said the shorter buffer and trimming down of who is affected is an improvement, but the department still is considering whether to appeal.

"It's better and in my opinion more reasonable, but I don't believe the two-mile buffer is based on any scientific reasoning," she said.

But Kansas City attorney Richard Miller, who represented the critics of the Arrow Rock farm, contends that the updated ruling should mean that no one can get a permit for a livestock operation within two miles of the village.

"Arrow Rock is a historic site in this country and should be preserved, and it's the duty of the DNR to preserve that,'' Miller said.

The lawsuit was filed by the Missouri Parks Association and the Arrow Rock village government.

Joyce sided with the critics of the Arrow Rock hog farm in their lawsuit partly because an attorney representing the Department of Natural Resources did not respond to the allegations of fact raised by the lawsuit. Joyce later rejected a request by the department to enter its responses after the deadline.

Livestock farming has been a potent political issue in recent years.

The Missouri Farm Bureau, one of two organizations whose attempts to intervene in the case were denied, released a statement this week claiming Joyce's ruling raises "serious concerns'' and declaring that U.S. agriculture is "under attack.''

"There remains no demonstrated need to impose a buffer over and above what is already required by state law, and this ruling could set a needless and harmful precedent,'' Farm Bureau President Charles Kruse said in a written statement.

Shortly after Joyce issued her August ruling, the lawsuit and the regulation of livestock farming were debated by a Missouri House committee created to analyze various agriculture issues before the start of the 2009 session.

Several lawmakers at the August hearing expressed concerns about how the ruling would affect the state's animal livestock industry. Missouri has hundreds of pork and poultry farms using confined feeding operations.

Kurt Valentine, the general counsel for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, told lawmakers in August he thought that even Joyce's initial ruling couldn't be applied beyond Gessling's permit for Arrow Rock.

"A judgment can say the moon is made out of blue cheese, but that doesn't mean it applies to you,'' said Kurt Valentine, who is married to Kara Valentine.


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