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Organization forms to thwart confined feeding operations in Whitley County

Article provided A fast-growing organization of area residents has emerged to combat the threat to Whitley and neighboring counties' water supply, air quality and public health from several proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the area. Several area farmers have applied for CAFO permits that are currently before the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). Among these is Hinen Family Farms which is seeking a permit to build two 46,000-square-foot beef fattening barns, each of which would hold 660 cattle. Hinen Family Farms is a limited liability company located just over one mile south of the Tri-Lakes system in northern Whitley County. The organization has held three informational meetings to date, with a fourth meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, June 8 at the Big Lake Church of God on North State Road 109. Additionally, representatives of the organization traveled to Indianapolis on May 10 to meet with IDEM to deliver a Power Point presentation outlining their objections to the Hinen CAFO and to deliver 213 hand-carried letters of objection. If, as anticipated, IDEM approves the Hinen CAFO, the group intends to file an appeal. Additional pending CAFO projects in Whitley County are a hog farm located near Troy Cedar Lake and chicken CAFO that would house 180,000 chickens in four barns on a farm near Goose Lake. Residents near the proposed CAFOs are concerned about contaminated air, noxious odors, risks to groundwater, reduced property values, disease-causing pathogens and the impacts on area lakes, watersheds and aquifers. The group opposes large CAFOs, essentially factory farms housing large numbers of livestock or poultry in confined feeding areas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, states with high concentrations of CAFOs experience on average 20 to 30 serious water quality problems per year as a result of manure management issues. According to the group's presentation to IDEM, 43 Whitley County lakes, rivers, branches, creeks and ditches are listed as impaired, and that three lakes near the proposed CAFO - Shriner, Troy Cedar and Little Cedar - are already considered impaired due to their high phosphorous content. High levels of phosphorous resulting from runoff from fertilized acreage can increase the growth of blue-green algae which, in turn, produce toxins in affected waterways. Some of the proposed manure fields to be served by the CAFO directly encroach on impaired or distressed waterways in northern Whitley County. A report from the Colorado College Dept. of Economics states that "the magnitude of the economic loss suffered by the neighbors of a CAFO can be significant." The effect on the value of neighboring properties "lowers the taxable value of these properties and shifts costs to all other residents of the region." According to the July, 2001 Appraisal Journal, a real estate appraisers' publication, "... diminished marketability, loss of use and enjoyment, and loss of exclusivity can result in a diminishment ranging from 50 percent to nearly 90 percent of otherwise unimpaired value." For example, a hog CAFO in northeast Clark County, Illinois, resulted in a 30 percent reduction in the property assessment for homes within a half-mile of the facility, a 20 percent reduction with one mile and a 15 percent reduction within 1.25 miles, and the county had to establish an assessment abatement for the 50 residential homes near the facility. Officially, Tri-Lakes encompasses a land area of 3.42 square miles, ranging from County Rd. 500 North to County Line Road and from State Rd. 9 to County Road 350 East. In includes .6 square miles of lakes, including Shriner Lake, Round Lake, and Little and Big Cedar lakes, and has approximately 1,350 full-time residents. Whitley Water Matters LLC is a grassroots organization, whose mission is to advocate for responsible management of the land, lakes, air and waterways in Whitley County, Indiana and neighboring communities through changes in local ordinances.

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