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Union County Egg Facility Could House 6 Million Hens

Two Iowa investors want to build what could be Ohio's largest egg production facility. The site is in Union County north of Marysville. Hi-Q Egg Products is asking the state Department of Agriculture for permission to house up to 6 million laying hens on a 500-acre tract. The company is holding a public meeting tonight in Marysville.

There doesn't seem to be a shortage of people critical of the Hi-Q project. Hundreds of yard signs opposing the facility have sprung up on front lawns in the area which is already home to several large egg producers.

Matt Staley drives by one of the facilities. He's a young local farmer and very pro-agriculture, he says. But he's opposed, like many of his neighbors, to millions of more chickens.

"The Ohio Department of Agriculture has permitted 3.3 million birds to be within this 3-square-mile area that we're in right now. It doesn't necessarily mean that there are that mean birds here at this moment because some of the houses are in the remodeling process right now. But they will be full again. And certainly long term is what we're looking at : 3.3 million in this area. And Hi-Q Egg Products, a firm based in Iowa, is proposing to build a six million bird facility in the middle of this 3.3 million bird area.

Staley is a member of the Northwest Neighborhood Alliance - a group formed to fight the project.

"Our concern is that that's going to push the community over the tipping point," Staley says. "That's more stress than a single community can handle."

Staley says property values would be hurt; that county roads won't be able to handle the additional truck traffic. And he says there could be environmental consequences. He worries about huge swarms of flies that have plagued neighbors of other Ohio egg farms. And there's the odor and possible pollution caused by the manure of six million chickens.

"Chicken manure is a wonderful product and a great fertilizer," Staley says. "But when it's used either in excess on a given acre of ground or there's just so much of it that you can't get rid of it, it becomes a problem. It can wash off into streams and then eventually leach down into ground water."

The facility would produce 70,000 tons of manure a year. Hi-Q's Ohio consultant Tom Menke says the manure would be processed on-site.

"It's carried out of the barns automatically on a continuous basis and it is stored in separate buildings that are specifically designed for storage of the product," Menke says. "And then from those buildings it's sold to farmers through people who actually broker the material. We've worked with a lot of poultry farms in Ohio and have over the years and poultry manure or organic fertilizer or soil amendment if that's what you want to call it, is a very hot commodity now. With the extreme price of fertilizer it makes it a very good substitute."

The facility will have to win government approval and Ohio mega egg facilities have been known to cause regulatory angst. One of the companies, Buckeye Egg Farm fought with the state's Environmental Protection Agency for years over issues involving manure and polluted air. In 2005, the State of Ohio won a set of contempt charges against the company.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has not made decisions on Hi-Q's permit requests. Ag department spokesman Bill Schwaderer says they'll look a lot of issues.

"They have to abide by approximately 250 pages of rules and statutes which is considered to be among the most stringent in the United States," Schwaderer says.

Consultant Tom Menke says those regulations will help insure that Hi-Q will be a good neighbor.

"Ohio is a very tough place to have a large farm because of the high degree of regulation. But Farms like this that are well managed and have modern facilities can meet those regulations and provide jobs and agricultural products and protect the environment all at the same time," Menke says.

If approved the plant would employ about 75 people. Meanwhile the Northwest Neighborhood Alliance is handing out fly swatters embossed with the group's seal that says "No More Chickens."