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Callaway officials: Health committee needs more guidelines

Callaway officials: Health committee needs more guidelines

October 24th, 2017 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

In this March 31, 2017 photo, Callaway County Commissioner Roger Fischer points to the western district of the county, highlighted in orange and green. The townships affected by his proposed health ordinance are outlined in black in the lower map.

Photo by Helen Wilbers /News Tribune.

More than 40 Callaway County residents showed up Monday evening for a Health Ordinance Committee meeting — only to find four committee members were absent, meaning the group lacked a quorum.

However, all three Callaway County Commission members and three committee members were present. They talked to the assembled constituents about the future of the committee.

"We should have given some better direction for the committee," Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said.

Three of the four absent members voted during the previous meeting to disband the committee and ask commissioners to adopt Missouri Department of National Resources guidelines on confined animal feeding operations. That measure failed, despite Joshua Lehenbauer, Kenny Brinker and Tim Safranski voting in favor.

The fourth absent member, Ashley Varner, couldn't come due to commitments related to her children, a committee member said.

Commissioners seemed to agree the committee should continue — but with new commissioner-set guidelines defining its role and goals.

"Go ahead and set the date for your next meeting in three weeks, and we'll have guidelines for you," Jungermann said.

County commissioners formed the committee to advise them on a health ordinance proposed by Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer. The proposed ordinance affects six townships in Callaway County including Bourbon, West Fulton, Round Prairie, Guthrie, Cedar (which includes New Bloomfield) and Summit (which includes Holts Summit). It would apply to new confined animal feeding operations with a specified density of animals: 1,000 or more animal units at 150 or more per acre.

The ordinance would establish setbacks to keep CAFOs and their waste a certain distance from populated areas, water and recreational facilities. It also introduces a variety of other safety measures to keep diseases from spreading from CAFOs to people.

Members include physicians, farmers and researchers from the area. Rick Hess, Holts Summit's city administrator, acts as moderator.

Since the group's first meeting June 27, Hess said the committee has read through the entirety of Fischer's proposed ordinance and has been working through it section by section, comparing it with existing ordinances in other counties, DNR regulations and recommendations from researchers.

"It does take an effort to go through and find the evidence," said Dr. Leo Patrick Smith, a committee member, adding the DNR does not describe the reasoning behind its suggested setback distances.

Progress was slow.

"We're trying to find something that would allow CAFOs, farmers and ranchers to operate but still be neighborly to nearby cities and residents," he said.

Committee members Jeff Jones, Smith and Dr. Robert Pearce all mentioned their goal is to find a common or middle ground between CAFOs and neighboring property owners — and between the DNR's relatively loose regulations and other county health ordinances.

However, some committee members and members of the public felt Brinker, Safranski and Lehenbauer were done negotiating.

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"We've been to the last two meetings, and nothing's been accomplished because it's been stonewalled," community member Phil Glenn said.

Those three committee members were unavailable for comment.

Most community members who spoke mentioned support for the committee's mission to negotiate a health ordinance affecting CAFOs.

That included retired environmental engineer Richard Vedder, who said he's studied farm waste spreading.

"(CAFOs have) a definite potential for environmental impacts and making people sick," he said.

He said current Missouri regulations leave a loophole in controlling waste spreading. By giving or selling the "sludge" to a third party, CAFO owners can dodge the obligation to sterilize the waste before spreading it, he said.

The ordinance also has the support of Friends of Responsible Agriculture, a group formed several years ago to combat and regulate CAFOs in Callaway County.

It's unclear whether the health ordinance will be put to a public vote.

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