MARYVILLE, Mo. — More than a dozen citizens from around the county packed the upstairs meeting room of the Nodaway County Health Center on Wednesday morning to share their opinions on a new ordinance proposed by the county health department that would relax local regulations on CAFOs and bring them in line with state law.
In August, regulation over concentrated animal feeding operations — CAFOs — moved from local governments to state authority when Senate Bill 391 took effect. The law prevents counties and local health boards from enacting any new ordinances regarding CAFOs that include stricter requirements than at the state level.
Whether the law applies to local regulations already on the books, though, is an open question — one that will only be answered once a lawsuit against the state wraps up. The Missouri Constitution does not allow for retrospective laws without specific provisions that outline such an exception. Until clarity is provided through the courts, some counties and county health boards have determined that their existing ordinances passed prior to Aug. 28 are still in effect.
Earlier this year, the Nodaway County Health Center Board of Trustees began considering an ordinance that would replace the one that has been on the books since 2006. If passed, it would largely bring the county regulations in line with state DNR rules, which would be the governing standards if SB 391 is found to apply retrospectively. That includes removing more stringent local requirements on the disposal of waste near other properties. Passing an ordinance now also would remove any question of which standards are in effect in Nodaway County regardless of a court decision’s timeline.
The proposed ordinance also adds a couple of new clauses to the county regulations. One requires CAFO applicants to provide a copy of their application materials to the Nodaway County Health Center in addition to DNR. Previously, applications were submitted directly to the county health department.
Another addition includes the power to appoint a “qualified individual” to inspect any lagoons used by a CAFO which has been issued a county health permit.
Health Center Administrator Tom Patterson said that provision was added to try and give the county the ability to head off problems that have plagued Iowa’s DNR when that agency took over statewide regulation and CAFO expansion quickly exploded.
“They weren’t even aware of the number of CAFOs they had in the state that should have been registered,” Patterson said during Wednesday’s meeting. “(The EPA) found that they weren’t responding properly to around 50 percent of … complaints.”
One of the Iowa DNR’s responses to the EPA, Patterson said, was that the agency lacked the manpower to effectively inspect and regulate each of Iowa’s more than 10,000 estimated CAFOs. Patterson said he asked Missouri DNR officials if the Show-Me-State was better equipped to handle a sharp rise in CAFOs over a short time period. Currently, Missouri has a little more than 500 operating CAFOs.
“There are some gaps,” Patterson said. “So the purpose of a local ordinance like ours is to shore up those gaps.”
Multiple residents who gave public comment at the meeting, including Presiding Commissioner Bill Walker, mentioned that the ordinance could preclude the county from successfully petitioning for an “Agri-Ready” designation from the industry-led advocacy group Missouri Farmers Care, a driving force behind the “Right to Farm” amendment that passed in 2014.
The current ordinance would certainly run afoul of multiple requirements of becoming an Agri-Ready county. According to the organization’s website, an Agri-Ready county cannot have any local regulations that are more stringent than ones enforced by the Department Agriculture or DNR, and cannot have any ordinances that “discourage, limit or restrict agricultural operations.”
Patterson took issue with Walker’s assertion that the health department is preventing the county from attaining the Agri-Ready status, which he said would help attract more agricultural industry to the county.
“One of the things I don’t understand about Agri-Ready … is that they insist on having no local oversight,” Patterson said. “You would think that if we got a bad operator, we would want some leverage and not just have to call DNR to properly handle it. You kind of expect you’d want your elected officials locally to at least try to address it.”
Walker said the commissioners are against passing the new ordinance.
Josh McKim, director of Nodaway County Economic Development, said at the meeting that his organization does not have an official stance on the ordinance, but told the board that NCED does want to see “as much opportunity as we possibly can” come into the county, including in the agricultural sector.
“So as you look at that, and you look at the ordinance, and you try to evaluate why you are doing it, please, think about that,” McKim said. “Why are you doing it? Is it for protection, and does this ordinance add additional protection? Or is it for, I don’t know, another reason?”
Of the dozen or so attendees at the meeting, 10 gave public comments to the board, most against passing the ordinance. Patterson said he and the board take the comments to heart, and will make a couple of suggested revisions in the language to the ordinance.
Although originally scheduled for its third reading Wednesday, board members voted to delay the reading until Patterson has made revisions to the proposed ordinance. The revised version will be presented to the board at the January meeting, with a third reading scheduled for February.
Other health center news:
- Three board seats will come open in April. Applicants may file to run at the health center between Dec. 17 and Jan. 21. If enough candidates file for a contested race, they will appear on the April ballot.
- The next board meeting, a budget workshop, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 12 , with a regular meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 17 to consider the budget.
- Larry Wickersham, environmental public health specialist, submitted his resignation to the board. Wickersham accepted a position with the state Department of Health and Human Services.