News

Fate of county CAFO rules in question

By Brendan Crowley GateHouse Missouri
Posted: Jun. 20, 2019 3:55 pm

BOONVILLE — Two months before a statewide ban on county-level concentrated animal feeding operation regulations goes into effect, one lawyer is preparing to use the law to try to get Cooper County’s ordinance nullified.


The Cooper County regulations, passed by the county health board last year, haven’t been enforced since a court order last October that came after a group of Cooper County farmers and their families, represented by attorney Brent Eric Haden, sued the board to have the regulations thrown out.


The Missouri General Assembly has since passed a ban on county-level regulations, and opponents argue the court should invalidate the health board’s regulation, because it will be in conflict with the new law. At the same time, county health boards, hoping there’s a chance existing regulations will be allowed to stand, are racing to create CAFO regulations before the law takes Aug. 28.


The bill was meant to create consistent regulations among counties, including any passed between its passage and Aug. 28, sponsoring state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, wrote in an email. The bill doesn’t include an exception for existing regulations, so any county regulations inconsistent with the state’s should become null and void once the bill is enacted, he wrote.


Cooper, Pettis and Howard counties are among the 20 Missouri counties with their own CAFO health regulations, according to MU Extension.


Haden filed a motion Tuesday asking Circuit Judge Robert Koffmann’s permission to amend the lawsuit. Since the Cooper County regulations are more strict than the state’s, it will clearly be in violation of the new law, he argues.


The Cooper County regulations required people applying manure from a CAFO to their land to develop a detailed nutrient management plan, like the one required by CAFO operators who apply manure to land they own. The regulations are to prevent manure from polluting waterways and groundwater. It also required them to knife the manure into the soil rather than applying it on top.


A trial in the lawsuit is set to begin July 30, but Haden asked to postpone it until after Sep. 1, when the new law will be in effect. The health board regulation hasn’t been enforced because of a court injunction.


Haden also asked to extend until the new trial date the injunction preventing the regulations from being enforced. It would waste money to have a trial before the law goes into effect and another after, Haden said.


The Cooper County Health Board has been asked to consider amending its regulation before the law goes into effect, said Board Chair Patty Dick. The board will discuss the issue at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. on July 9, in the lower basement conference room of the Cooper County Public Health Center, she said.


Stephen Jeffery, the attorney for the health board in this lawsuit, could not be reached for a response on Thursday. A hearing on Haden’s motion is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Cooper County Courthouse, with Koffman presiding.


The filing came a day after area farmers pushed back on a regulation proposed by the Moniteau County Health Board. The proposed Moniteau ordinance is almost identical to the one approved by Howard County voters last year.


It would require any operation with more than 300 animal units — equal to 1 beef cow or 2.5 hogs over 55 pounds — to get a permit from the county in addition to the permits required by the Department of Natural Resources. It would also impose setback requirements on anyone spreading manure from a CAFO, and require surety bonds for manure storage systems.


Several area farmers told the health board they don’t need additional regulations, because they are already regulated by the state and take seriously their responsibility to keep air and water clean. Bernskoetter said the meeting showed farmers support his new law.


Moniteau County Health Board postponed a vote on the regulations and expanded a study group to include farmers opposed to the ordinance. The group has been studying the regulations for six months as it looks for a compromise or alternative before the Moniteau County Health Board meets again in July.


Courts will decide whether existing county ordinances stand, but if Moniteau doesn’t have one it definitely won’t be able to pass one, said Darrell Hendrickson, environmental specialist for the Moniteau County Health Department.


bcrowley@gatehousemedia.com

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