Stew Lilker’s Columbia County Observer recently ran the following article:
South Columbia Cnty Residents vs. 1,000,000 Chickens in Their Backyards
Posted January 06, 2016 01:25 am
By Stew Lilker
Thirty people from the area attended the meeting.
Fort White, FL – Thirty South Columbia County residents met in the Fort White library Monday night to get updated and continue organizing against a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), which some people mistakenly call a chicken farm. The meeting facilitated by Our Santa Fe River’s Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson had unhappy and disappointed residents wringing their hands trying to come up with a plan of action to stop the chickens and educate the County’s residents of what they consider the impending doom of 1,000,000 chickens in many of their backyards.
DOAH (Department of Administrative Hearings) is a state agency that employs full time administrative law judges to conduct hearings in which the substantial interests of a person are determined by an agency and which involves disputed issues of material fact. When a state agency proposes to take some action that is adverse to a person, the affected person is normally entitled to request an administrative hearing to determine the matter. DOAH employs administrative law judges to conduct the hearings.
Requests for hearings are initially made to the appropriate state agency. If the case does not involve disputed facts, the agency itself will conduct a proceeding and subsequently make a decision. If the request for hearing indicates that the affected person disputes facts upon which the proposed action is based, the agency generally refers the case to DOAH for a hearing.
In October, Betsy Thomason of Fort White thought the Suwannee River Water Management District issued the wrong type of Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) and requested a DOAH.
In Ms. Thomason’s Request for Hearing she claims the following:
- Her children and family will be exposed to odors, noise, and damage on the roads by large trucks entering and leaving the Chicken Factory.• Her well water will be adversely affected if polluted water from the Chicken Factory reaches the aquifer, springs, and rivers.• Her quality of life will suffer if polluted water from the Chicken Factory reaches the nearby springs and river which she and her family enjoy.• Ms. Thomason is concerned about Avian Flu (Bird Flu) because the Chicken Factory is in the migratory flight path of birds. She claimed that the County Manager was concerned about Bird Flu in a memo sent around at the County.
• Ms. Thomason complained that because of the CAFO her property value and that of others, as well as the tax base of Columbia County would decline, placing “stress on the local government.”
Ms. Thomason also had a laundry list of technical and other violations in her request for a hearing.
On December 21, 2015, the law firm representing the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) referred the matter to Chief Judge Robert S. Cohen, with a request that the matter be assigned to an administrative law judge to “conduct the hearing.”
JTC Farms and the SRWMD Protest
On January 5, 2016, JTC Farms filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Thomason’s Petition for the Administrative Hearing.
JTC Farms claimed that Ms. Thomason lacks standing to file the Petition and that the Petition fails to comply with the Florida Statutes (120.54(5)(b)4) and the Florida Administrative Code (rule 28-106.201(2)).
JTC Farms stated that Ms. Thomason’s claims are “purely speculative injuries” that “are not within the zone of interest governing this proceeding.”
In a separate motion, the SRWMD asked for dismissal on the same grounds as JTC.
County Attorney Joel Foreman
Ms. Malwitz-Jipson told the group, “Our fight is with the County. The Water Management District told them (JTC) to go to the County. The County told them they didn’t need anything.”
County Attorney Joel Foreman, Florida’s only popularly elected County Attorney, became a center point of contention when he refused to follow what many interpreted the County Code (Sec. 26-35) to require: building permits for JTC’s twelve 21,500 sq. ft. chicken coops. Each coop is estimated to house approximately 20,000 chickens.
While zoned “agriculture,” the JTC property was not classified by the County Property Appraiser as “agriculture.” Many, including the Property Appraiser, did not agree with County Attorney Foreman’s conclusion of law: “… statutory exemption may leave room for argument that a permit may be required since the landowner has not secured an agricultural classification from the property appraiser, the zoning of the land and the operative ordinance support the conclusion that no permit is required for non-residential farm buildings.”
Finally, County Attorney Foreman opined that if the County was going to move against JTC Farms, it was going to be the Building Department that would do so. Mr. Foreman is also the Attorney for the Building Department. The Building Department did nothing.
The County 5
Since the October 15, 2015, County 5 meeting, (Agribusiness vs. Rural Living & a River) the County 5 have been publicly silent about the CAFO issue.
Those at Monday night’s meeting generally agreed that there needs to be a change of commissioners at the next election. There has also been talk of a recall petition for County Attorney Foreman.
As folks around JTC Farms have seen their property values evaporate and their dreams of peaceful country living disappear, Commissioner Frisina’s words that if they didn’t like it, “they should move,” resonate through the south end of the County.
Photo Credit: CAFO, Not Grandma’s Farm – FarmSanctuary