A meeting Thursday night meant to be for public comment about proposed changes to Lancaster County’s zoning regulations for large livestock regulations instead started off mostly as a rehashing of a forum for opponents of an already-approved poultry farm in the southwest part of the county.
The first several people who spoke at the meeting of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Working Group at Scott Middle School criticized the decision first by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission and then the County Board to approve a 190,000-chicken operation near the Saline County line. Some even went so far as to insinuate that the working group was a sham.
Janis Howlett, who is a member of the Lancaster Hills Alliance, a group that has filed a lawsuit appealing the approval of the poultry farm, called for the working group to be disbanded and reappointed, noting that not a single member of the group is a neighbor of the operation, and the only person even remotely close lives 5 miles away. She also said that six of the 10 members are agricultural “operators” of one kind or another, a fact that has “tainted” the group’s work product.
Pam Wakeman, who lives less than a mile from the poultry operation that would raise chickens for a Costco processing plant in Fremont, suggested that large animal feeding operations do not belong in Lancaster County at all.
Eventually, however, some of the 17 people who testified Thursday night did offer suggestions on the draft of proposed changes, which, among other things, would define small, medium and large livestock operations and also set specific setback distances for them.
Jane Egan, another member of the Lancaster Hills Alliance, suggested that any rules for animal feeding operations require owners to carry a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance.
“That would be a step toward accountability that does not now exist,” she said.
Andrew Knight, who lives in Lincoln but whose family owns a farm near the approved poultry farm, suggested that Lancaster County consider a form a transitional agricultural zoning used in Saline County that would prohibit large ag operations in certain areas, such as near Lincoln.
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Though the poultry farm that was approved is far from Lincoln, it is about 3 miles from Crete, which is surrounded by transitional zoning. Knight said that if the poultry farm was a half mile farther west, it would not have been allowed.
Bruce Barrett, who lives just down the road from the poultry farm, suggested limits on the number of chickens, cows or other livestock based on the amount of land available for the operation.
Barrett, who noted that Lancaster County has changed and is “not the same as it was even 30 years ago,” suggested that large ag operations are no longer appropriate anywhere in the county.
People in favor of large agriculture operations also weighed in.
Jessica Herrmann, director of legal and regulatory affairs for the Nebraska Cattlemen, said the proposed rules, which require large cattle and hog feedlots to be at least a mile from homes unless significant odor control measures are used, are too vague. Significant odor control needs to be specifically defined and consistently enforced, she said.
Andy Scholting, president of Nutrient Advisors, a West Point-based company that helps livestock farmers come up with nutrient management plans, stressed the need for clarity in the proposed regulations. He also said there should be a distance waiver process to allow operations to be closer than regulations allow if a neighboring owner signs a waiver.
Thursday was the first opportunity for public comment on the proposed regulations, and the working group, which has met six times since March, plans to meet several more times before making a formal recommendation to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department, which will then formulate a report to be considered by the Planning Commission and County Board.
Steve Henrichsen, the Planning Department’s development review manager, said that means final steps in the process “are probably quite a few months away.”