Board passes amendment to stop large poultry farms

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By Patrick Yost

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The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously approved a text amendment aimed at preventing large poultry farming companies from setting up shop in Morgan County while simultaneously protecting small family-owned poultry farms in the county.

According to County Planning Director Chuck Jarrell, surrounding counties have been struggling with poultry farming corporations settling in their communities.

“We want to prevent a mega-farm type situation,” said Jarrell. “We are not saying that we don’t want chicken houses here, that’s a lucrative business for our community and it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of our farmers rely on the fertilizer that the chickens produce,” explained Jarrell. “But we are trying to protect our residents as we grow and protect our existing farmers from being swallowed up by these large companies coming from overseas.”

The BOC acknowledged the potential drawbacks of a corporate poultry farm coming to Morgan County.

“There is just a range of concerns when we are talking about these big poultry farms,” said Commissioner Andy Ainslie. “There are concerns about air quality, water quality, waste disposal, and so on.”

The BOC agreed with Jarrell’s recommendation for the text amendment, which now affects all “confined animal feeding operations” in the county, not just poultry farmers. The new guidelines prohibit any animal feeding operations in residential areas, limit the amount of confinement areas to eight 25,000 square feet structures or six 39,200 square feet structures per property. The text amendment also requires an increase front setback of 400 feet, up from 200 feet, and a half-mile buffer between a confinement area and a neighboring property line.

Side and rear setbacks remain at 200 feet. Confinement areas must have a 100-foot setback from State waters and 400 feet from residence not occupied by the owner or caretaker.

“This keeps chicken houses further back from the road and out of sight and a good distance from neighboring properties,” explained Jarrell.

The new text amendment also includes a grandfather clause for currently operating chicken houses in the county. Those operations will not be affected by the new language of the text amendment and will be allowed to rebuilt should they ever be damaged in a fire or natural disaster.

“We want to keep our poultry businesses in the county small and family-owned,” said Ainslie.

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