Sunday, December 17, 2006

"An Angry Mop"

The day after the Dec. 11, 2006 BZA meeting, our little boy was playing one of many computer strategy games on my husband's computer. I was in the kitchen when I heard him chanting loudly...

"Angry mop! Angry mop! Angry mop!"

I thought, "What in the world...?"

When I asked him, he explained,

"See that group of good guys? That's a angry mop. See that group of bad guys? That's a angry mop, too. The angry mops get together and fight and that's how I win the game..."

In a 6-year-old's mind, an angry mop can solve a lot.

As a housewife, I have a different vision of what an angry mop is. It's when you tackle the floors in your house with a heavy mop. After you've finished, you're left with sparkling clean floors and an incredlibly fresh smelling house.

But I digress...

I went to the meeting last Monday night -- not to fight -- but to watch, to listen, and to learn.

Here's what I learned from the meeting:

1. The proposed facility is intended to be a veal calf operation, not a dairy calf operation... although it may house some dairy heifers in addition to mostly male calves.

This is important information for several reasons, some of which I will be writing about in the weeks ahead.

2. The watershed in our area is unique ...and apparently very precious and rare... as the hydrology expert pointed out in his presentation. Even though I already knew many of us are forced to use shallow wells owing to the geological make-up of our area, I had no idea our aquifer is that close to the land's surface.

It's more fragile than even I had first considered... and gives me even more consternation about the health risk potential any CAFO brings to our region.

The recent e. coli in spinach scare comes to mind.

As does the Walkerton, Ontario incident in 2000 where 6 people died...

And the Cryptosporidium parvum outbreak in Milwaukee, WI, 1993 from which it's estimated 50 to 70 people died...

and other equally disturbing cases.

To a mother with a young child... hearing this information about our aquifer, seeing it presented so clearly protective instincts were "silently screaming" inside.

I simply can't help thinking how crazy it is to allow tens of thousands of tons of bacteria-laden manure to be dumped every year on that shallow shell of sand and gravel separating us from our water -- millions of tons when you consider some of the other CAFOs that have already forced their way in here amidst public protest. In my humble opinion -- it's insane!!

Where are the public health officials in all of this?! Who is protecting us???

3. I also learned that, although the amount of major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) will not increase by the switch from 350,000 poultry (actually 345,500) to 10,000 calves, the overall volume of manure will increase.

By how much?

I wasn't sure, because the numbers presented were for a dairy operation, so I requested further info from the Purdue expert that attended the BZA meeting. The answer I received indicated that there would be, a whopping 241% increase in the volume of manure!!

"Using manure production numbers provided by the Midwest Plan Service, we estimate total manure production to be as follows:

350,000 Laying Hens = 9,581 tons/year

10,000 Beef Calves= 32,712 tons/year (i.e., +241% increase)

Please note that the amount of major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) will not increase; however, the mass of the manure, heavy metal, antibiotics, hormones, etc., are all likely to increase."
In other words, you can expect the total volume of contaminants to increase by 241% an area where the watershed lays very close to the land surface.

4. I learned there are a great many more people in this area that are opposed to the calf operation than I had first thought, as evidenced by the number of people who showed up, and many who lined up at the mic to express their opposition publicly for the record.

5. I learned that some members of the BZA did not appear very interested in much of the information presented by groups in opposition to the calf CAFO, and that they could be quite obvious about it -- astonishingly obvious.

Their lack of respect towards many of the presenters and the citizens in attendance was pointed out in a very severe reprimand given to some members of the BZA panel by a member of the Wheatfield planning board. His comments stated "for the record" were followed by very loud cheers from the audience.

Now, I had to leave the meeting on 2 occasions.

Once, when the lawyer for one of the CAFO-opposition groups got up to do his presentation. My son was extremely restless, and before he could become disruptive to those sitting near us, I left with him so he could get a drink of water and get some fresh air outside.

I wish I could have heard everything the lawyer had to say. My apologies for not being able to bring you specifics on his presentation.

We returned near the end of the lawyer's presentation... and sat by ourselves at the back of the auditorium so as not to disturb those down in front. My husband remained down in front, closer to the stage.

The second time was when people lined up to voice their stance publicly for the record with their 2-minute time alotment "granted" by the BZA speaker. After about 50 or 60 people had their say, my son, who had just woken up from a brief nap "had to go" ...most parents out there know what that means.

Sidenote: My son was woken up by the booming voice of the BZA speaker shouting at the audience yet again, trying so desperately to make it appear as though he had an unruly mob on his hand. He's a strange man, that one.

I rushed to the front to tell my husband I would be taking our son to the washroom and then out to wait in the truck.

We were both asleep in the truck when my husband appeared about an hour later. The meeting still wasn't over... that was close to midnight. Needless to say, we had to get our son home to bed.

So we missed the private conference held onstage ...and the final announcement that the Special Exception Permit would be "tabled" until a later date -- Dec. 27th, according to one astute reporter who got a picture of the "private mics-off mini conference" held on the stage.

Hmmmm... There are some Govt. appointed officials that could lose their jobs for doing that at a public meeting in Canada. It's interesting to see the differences between Canadian laws for public meetings and USA laws.

Now, back to the "angry mop" thing...

A cell phone rang out in the auditorium late in the meeting (before I left with our son) at which point the BZA Speaker harshly reprimanded the citizens about turning off their cell phones -- again trying to sound like he was addressing an unruly angry mob. Sheesh! He should have been an actor. The police officer who answered the call on his cell phone was out in the hall at the time of the reprimand.

I left the meeting with more questions ringing in my mind that I think need to be "cleaned up" with an angry mop. Questions like,

1. Why is it that every time the BZA speaker chose to rebuke the audience, his eyes fell on those opposed to the CAFO, and avoided the small group of CAFO supporters near the front? Was this a "grandstanding" play? He must have felt very powerful, indeed. I think he needs to clean up his act.

2. Why is it that one specific BZA member can stubbornly refuse to watch ANY AND ALL presentations brought forth by experts called on behalf of those opposing the operation ...and then still be allowed to vote on whether or not this calving operation can proceed? His attitude was extremely childish, in my humble opinion. Who appointed him to the Board? I think they need to clean house and replace him, and possibly replace the govt. official who appointed him.

2. Why were 4 policemen -- yes, FOUR -- called to be in attendance? Are they trying to make out like we're nothing but an angry mob? Sure, applause became loud on occassion. And yes, even a few pro-CAFO people who stepped up to the mic were interrupted by rumblings from the crowd ...but I can assure you, even though everyone living near the planned calving CAFO are clearly upset by the threats they perceive this CAFO will bring to this community, they were NOT in ANY WAY acting like an irrational angry mob. Who specifically requested 4 police officers? And why?

3. What are the REAL plans for this calving CAFO? You see, they have applied for an IDEM permit that indicates they will have 5,000 calves. Then they present to the BZA meeting that they intend to have 10,000 -- 5,000 in the existing poultry barns (after modifications to the barns are made) plus another 5,000 to be housed elsewhere on the property.

And I got really tired of how, almost gleefully, the CAFO lawyer pointed out that residents and property ownders in the two subdivisions in the immediate vicinity of this CAFO signed waivers of their rights to complain regarding agricultural operations. It's like he completely ignored the rest of us residents who signed absolutely nothing at all.

I'm still not clear on where they plan to house the additional 5,000 calves, or what their true intentions are for this calving operation.

I think the CAFO owners need to "clean up their act" and submit clear, specific plans outlining their intentions for this CAFO as well as more detailed and specific information regarding their plans of operation for minimizing their impact on area residents and their public health-risk prevention measures. The tree buffer was a nice touch, but it comes nowhere close to addressing potential risks and/or threats to our water, in my humble opinion...

I hate that moronic "easy-out" about their intent to use "best management practices" as per state guidelines. That doesn't tell me a thing in regards to the unique -- and rare -- nature of our acquifer. Maybe they addressed it after I left?

4. And another question... Who is really going to be the owner/operator of this operation? Is it going to be a partnership between Mark Shuringa and Gilbert den Dulk? Relatives and/or family friends of Mark Shuringa swear he has nothing to do with the calving operation... that he's just trying to sell off his egg farm because it has suffered severe financial losses in recent years.

Do the other Den Dulk operations (such as their Michigan farms and their Fair Oaks farms) have anything to do with ownership and/or overseeing this operation?

Speaking to one reporter recently, the reporter mentioned that Gilbert den Dulk swears this CAFO has nothing to do with the other Den Dulk operations -- that it's not related in any way. And yet, at the meeting I'm quite certain I heard the CAFO lawyer state that the calves would be coming from many places, including Fair Oaks and Michigan.

5. And lastly for this blog post, but not the last of the many questions I have remaining, particularly in regards to the bacteria in that mountain of manure -- 241% more manure -- why is it that 5 people who don't live anywhere near to my home have the power to decide whether or not my family is put in harms way?

In a democracy, majority rules -- doesn't it?

If we put it to a referendum in this area for people residing in Walker Township to vote on, do you think this CAFO would be approved?

In my personal and humble opinion, I think we need to take an "angry mop" to laws currently in place here in Jasper County, and in other Indiana counties ...change laws that seem to fail miserably in the areas of prevention, and in some cases even strip residents of their rights ...maybe we should require that CAFO approvals go to a referendum and not be left in the hands of people who don't live anywhere near where they are to be located ...clean house to better serve and protect public health and public interests.

No comments: