ANGOLA — The Steuben County Board of Zoning Appeals denied a special exception request for a confined animal feeding operation of 8,000 head of calves near the Indiana-Ohio border.
The Dale Hughes Jr. Memorial Auditorium in the Steuben Community Center was filled to capacity and the sign-up sheet included about 200 names of individuals who came for the BZA’s public hearing Jan. 23 to hear the only case that was on the agenda.
The request to put the operation on 40 acres three miles south of Little Long Lake was denied on a 5-0 vote. Almost 30 people from the audience spoke against the operation.
Each person from the audience was given 3 minutes to speak, while the applicants including Noah Schmucker, were given 10 minutes to speak and had a chance to answer the questions from the board members and the concerns raised by the audience. The meeting continued for approximately three hours.
The concerns from the public touched upon various items from water and air pollution caused by runoff from feedlots directly into the county managed drains to lakes to possible diseases, road quality and road safety, negative impact on endangered species, and loss in the neighboring properties’ market value.
Dustin Glick was the first member of the audience who voiced the objections to the project. He started his speech by referring to the size of the proposed project, which was enormous for the project of that type.
“The proposed CAFO will interfere with the use and enjoyment of property owners of the surrounding area,” Glick said.
Glick and other speakers mentioned that the county roads were not equipped for servicing the semi-trailer trucks traffic that would be needed for the operation. Later the board included time limits for truck traffic operation in the conditions for the passing of the project.
He and other speakers further mentioned the critical negative influence that the operation will have on water quality in Fish Creek watershed that is already in a critical state. Therese and Jim Shiffler expressed concern for water quality in Little Long Lake and Fish Creek.
Therese Shiffler said recent research had found out that Little Long Lake had become compromised due to another small-scale animal feeding operation in Michigan. Research indicated that the lake water clarity decreased from 8 feet in 2003 to 2.3 feet in 2022.
In addition, she mentioned that the number of the calf feeding operations, even if they are small-scale calf-feeding operations, in the area had increased eight-fold over the last 10 years.
Little Long Lake had exhibited an increased level of phosphorus stemming from manure running directly into the lake from neighboring operations already.
“These nutrients have caused Little Long Lake to have elevated levels of toxin-producing algae, some of which may be dangerous for human contact,” Shiffler said.
Jim Shiffler mentioned that the deteriorated water quality was also a problem at Fish Creek, and that there it created a hostile environment not only for human contact, but also for the endangered species, such as White Cats Paw Pearly Mussel. Fish Creek is the only habitat in the world for these species.
Other remonstrators, such as Vickie Lamb from Steuben County Lakes Council, who said she was a registered nurse, mentioned the harm the manure bacteria and viruses and toxins could have on local residents’ health that could get exposed just by breathing.
In addition, said Lamb, harmful influences of the cattle operations could increase antibiotic resistance in humans in the surrounding areas, which in turn might have become accountable for increased hospital stays and weakened human immune systems.
Lamb urged the BZA members when making their decision to take into consideration not only tangible investment considerations, but also intangible wealth and better quality of life, which good health provides.
“Look at that as a future investment to the community,” said Lamb. “There is no dollar amount attached to that investment.”
Bryan Shutt concentrated on the quality of the roads in the county that did not allow for the operation of that size. Shutt said that it was going to affect the whole eastern side of Steuben County. He also said traffic would increase.
Shutt also mentioned that the county roads were not suitable for a high number of semi-trailer truck travels, and that they would not allow two semi-trailer trucks or for a semi-trailer-truck and a school bus to pass each other.
“This area is not designed for an industrial park,” Shutt said.
Other speakers mentioned the length of their stay in the region and their emotional attachment to it, the contradiction between the project and the county development guidelines and principles, the examples of the impact of similar projects on the communities, including their destruction, in other places, and the applicants’ prior alleged lack of respect toward neighbors.
“They do not care about our county,” Shannon King said.
The remonstrators also mentioned a 25% decrease in their properties value. For example, Gena Burch-Zulch from Ohio, whose property is located about half a mile north of the proposed project on the same road said she contacted a real estate agent in the area, and they said a property within a one-mile radius of a large animal operation would decrease about 27%.
“This … will change our lives and our quality of life forever,” Burch-Zulch said.
The application as well as the applicants during the public hearing mentioned the waste generated by the operation would be composted inside the property, and that it would then be hauled off by a certified applicator.
They also did not object to the proposed conditions of the Steuben County Health Department and BZA members, however, after listening to the residents’ reports, the BZA did not approve the special exception permit for the operation, and the audience greeted it with applause.