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Factory Farms Irritate Ohio Neighbors

In the center of the village of New Holland, Ohio two murals greet passersby. One, a scene of a Dutch windmill overlooking a gray sea pays homage to some of the areas early settlers. But according to Mayor Anita Faye Helsel, their modern-day descendents and their small-town way of life are in trouble

HELSEL: New Holland is a small farm community. We have one traffic light, one grocery, one bar, a Laundromat. Rural America! Typically rural America. But our children are our prime asset. Our children's lives are at stake now.

Helsel and others in New Holland say they're being put at risk by construction of a farm designed to house thousands of pigs less than 2 miles from the village limits. In protest, a resident erected his own mural -- a billboard sized sign depicting a pig sitting on a toilet eating an American flag. The illustration shows the toilet draining into the New Holland water tank. Mayor Helsel says her town will be threatened by the farm's manure wastewater and by air pollution

HELSEL: The emissions will put into the atmosphere hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, nitrates, particulates - has the definite possibility of polluting the water. Their facility lays as the crows fly about a mile from our village well heads.

Although the pig farm is too small to trigger permit requirements from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, it must still meet certain regulations. Kevin Elder, head of O-D-A's environmental permitting program says the state has a good track record controlling animal waste pollution - especially waste that's generated by Ohio's 148 CAFO's

KEVIN ELDER: Our groundwater has been very well protected - we have not had groundwater contamination from the livestock facilities. We are checking the wells on each one of the permitted facilities -- some of them have been there since the late 70s. All the groundwater testing we've been pulling from their wells is coming back within drinking water standards; it's been very well protected.

But Helsel is skeptical. She says the Ohio Legislature diluted her authority to protect the village's water supply two years ago. That law, she says, allows large animal farms to escape local scrutiny

HELSEL: We depend on our legislative authorities to do right by their constituency. Obviously we were led down the road of believing in our local representatives who have voted on House Bill 152 which strips all county, township, local authorities of having anything to say, do or control what happens within their legislative boundaries. That's our State of Ohio.

New Holland's not alone in this tense factory farm tug-of-war. Early on, Ohio's CAFO's were being built in rural, sparsely populated areas. But as new farms move closer to major population centers, they're angering a larger number of neighbors. ODA's Elder says Ohioans should be confident in the monitoring and regulating his agency is doing. After all, he says, 96% of ODA's duties involve regulation enforcement. Meanwhile, he says other sources of pollution are going unchecked

ELDER: There's also pollution coming from communities when something's not managed properly - a waste treatment plant or whatever. There is pollution coming from small farms in that area right now. There's cattle standing in the middle of the stream right around the corner where people are protesting the swine facility. Those are practices that we need to all take care of to improve water quality.

Tension between factory farm opponents and state government is escalating. In a letter last March, State Senator John Carey suggested to Mayor Helsel that she refrain from maligning public officials before, as he put it, she knew the facts.' Pickaway County Commissioner John Stevenson doubts relations will improve

JOHN STEVENSON: The anti-people have to realize that they have so alienated themselves now, with their legislators, that they can't get their ear. And that is really bad.

Helsel says she and her allies will continue to fight large livestock operations. She says, A right to farm is not a right to harm. Sam Hendren, WOSU News