Piggeries, Hog Hotels and things that go “oink” in the night – and other times, too.
Several times over the last few weeks I was reminded of a couple of quotes which are appropriate to our current discussion. One was from Abe Lincoln, he said: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.” And another from Lou Holtz: “Burning your neighbor’s house down does not make your house look any better.” Let’s let them percolate around a while…..
The Short Sight:
We all live in an overwhelmingly agricultural community – by choice.
The agricultural industry in Michigan is governed by the Michigan Right to Farm Act – and –
By Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices. (Links provided below.)
Our Township is governed by a set of ordinances that each of us could – and should – have had a hand in writing.
All of us have the inalienable right to the peaceable enjoyment of our own property.
When reasonable people come together intent on reaching an agreement, anything is possible.
The View from the Cheap Seats:
A couple of months ago I was approached by the Litle Bend Piggery people who informed me they were in the planning phases of constructing a 5,000 animal hog finishing operation on property they owned off Litle Rd. Our conversation revolved around the permitting process for the Township, setbacks and our ordinances. Between then and now, I’ve learned more about intensive livestock operations than I ever thought anyone would want to know…and I’m still learning. And I’ve met still more of my neighbors who make their homes here in this most excellent little community of Concord. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed some behavior I could have really done without, but this is an emotional issue and I’m going to make some allowance for that.
When I was elected to this office, one of my promises was to keep everyone in the community better informed on what was happening, what was in the planning stages and what your options are as citizens. So about three weeks ago I began writing this post thinking I’d tell you the entire story from start to current day, problem is – that’d read like a novella, and I don’t know that anyone really cares to wade through all that. Instead, I’m going to give you the nuts and bolts, offer some further reading for those who care to pursue it, and let you all sort it out for yourselves from there.
Let’s start here: Since this first came up I’ve met with the Dobbins’ four separate times, twice at their invitation and twice at mine. I’ve met with many of the neighbors of the proposed facility, some of them several times. I’ve met with all the other Supervisors of the areas potentially affected by this facility, some of them several times. I’ve met with our township attorneys (Fahey, Shultz, et al) and communicated with them pretty much daily for the last month. I’ve spoken with other attorneys – both pro and con – several times. I’ve also spoken with business owners, consultants, County officials and the man from Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and his boss. Last Tuesday, Bob Jacokes, our treasurer and I had a six way meeting with our attorneys and the people from MDARD. On Wednesday we met with all the Supervisors from the surrounding areas. Wednesday afternoon, I met with the Dobbins.
I think we have a pretty good grip on this.
First and most important – Concord is an Agricultural community. We all live here by choice. True, maybe things were different when we moved in which is what attracted us in the first place, but all of us are adults, we all know things change. We get gravel pits, landfills, amusement parks, sex toy shops, churches, factories and even – yes – hog hotels. These things will come we can’t stop them; what is critical is that your elected officials do their level best to make sure that your voice is heard and your concerns are addressed to the extent allowed by law. If ever any of you don’t believe I am living up to that responsibility – you have options and I would encourage you to explore and use them.
Second, in the instant matter, Agricultural operations in Michigan are governed by a couple of laws at the State level. One is the Michigan Right to Farm Act (MRTFA). Here is a link to the full law: http://legislature.mi.gov/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-act-93-of-1981.pdf This act was written specifically to protect farmers from nuisance and harassment litigation and it is reviewed and updated pretty much annually. For those of you who have read this far please pay specific attention to paragraph #6.
Another one is Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMP). Here is a link to that one: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdard/2017_Draft_NUTRIENT_UTILIZATION_GAAMPs_532705_7.pdf It is referred to under the MRTFA cited above. And last but not least is the GAAMP for Manure handling which is found here: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdard/2016_MANURE_GAAMPs_516117_7.pdf
And there are bunches more of them…just Google GAAMPs and you can spend days going through all of them. Like I said, they are reviewed and updated pretty much every year.
Which brings me to the fruit of the conversation Bob and I had with our attorneys and the boys from MDARD.
- There were a total of 5 potential sites submitted to MDARD in the application process.
- The inspector from MDARD personally visited each of the sites.
- The Litle Road site was chosen primarily because it would affect the fewest residences.
- The application process is detailed and exacting as they want the project to succeed,
- they want to avoid disrupting peoples’ lives as much as possible,
- they are required to protect the environment
- and they want to minimize the potentiality for litigation and distraught residents.
- There is a process whereby the township can appeal the decision to site the facility where it is.
- In the opinions of both: our attorneys and the MDARD people, an appeal would at best be a delaying tactic which would cost many thousands of dollars and would wind us up at the same place we are right now, but much poorer and a little bit older.
- The MRTFA specifically and deliberately preempts local ordinances which are stricter than the provisions contained therein (Section #6?)
- Not one of the adjoining Township Supervisors is willing to attempt to prevent this operation being constructed.
- I do not now, nor have I ever had a magic wand. No matter how thoroughly I empathize with those of you who oppose this operation – I cannot prevent it.
At the end of the day, I find myself in the unenviable position of being – well – cannon fodder. It’s identical to the place I was in when the Mann Road gravel pit reopened and I will approach this the exact same way I did with that – I am going to do the best I can to cut as palatable a deal as possible considering the greatest number of involved people.
So that we all might gain a better understanding, we have asked both our attorneys and the MDARD people if they would be willing to attend a Township meeting to explain to our residents the selection process, the complaint process and the laws governing this operation, and they have agreed. I will try to set that up for the August meeting if everything works out.
From this point forward, it’s my understanding the Dobbins’ still have to go through some hurdles with the DEQ, then they have to get a Zoning Permit from the Township (they picked up the application yesterday) and get a Special Use Permit, which is written by our Planning Committee and approved by our Board of Trustees. So you still have time to voice your concerns. At this point the Dobbins’ have given me indication that they are willing to work with the Township and will take our concerns into consideration while developing the operating plan. I have no reason to think they won’t.
So, for those of you who have yet to share your opinions, please draft me an email, write a letter or a note and get it to me either by email or through the office. I will make certain your thoughts are presented to our planning committee and our Trustees.
And as always, I am as close as your phone.