Johnson County group: "No CAFO"

By Lesley Hughes
star staff

  A group of citizens in Johnson County joined together more than 11 months ago for one goal: to stop a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation from locating in Johnson County. The fight to educate other citizens and to gain support from the county government has not stopped since the CAFO decided to relocate to Northeast Tennessee.
  Essentially, the citizens, CAFO owners, and the company leasing the land, are now waiting on a decision from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation concerning approval or disapproval of a Class II CAFO permit.
  Maymead, Inc. has offered Jerry Anderson, owner of Carolina Holsteins, Inc., a Granite, N.C.-based farm, the opportunity to lease land on Dug Hill Road for a CAFO with 700 dairy cattle. Currently, the North Carolina operation has more than 500 cows. Phone messages to Wiley Roark, Vice President of Maymead, were not returned.
  Many in the group, Johnson County Citizens Committee for Clean Air and Water, live in rock-throwing distance of the proposed site and have enlisted the help of experts. The group has a charter and holds membership in the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. The group has also sought help from GRACE Factory Farm Project, and Farm Aid. Some of the experts agreed to come to the public meeting with TDEC on Aug. 31.
  However, TDEC officials abruptly changed the meeting to Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m. It is now uncertain if the experts will be able to come and speak. The meeting will be held in the gymnasium of Johnson County Middle School, 500 Fairground Lane, Mountain City.
  County Mayor Dick Grayson said the public meeting will serve as a time for TDEC officials to "answer questions and listen to whatever anyone has to say, within reason."
  The Johnson County Commission has fought the CAFO by passing numerous resolutions, including one "to ban CAFOs in Johnson County," according to Grayson. Four other resolutions remain, but the one to ban CAFOs was recently rescinded because the county does not have the right to ban the business.
  The citizens committee plans to discuss many topics at the public meeting, including the effect the CAFO will have on the creeks and streams in Johnson County. TDEC has placed five county streams on the 2004 Draft of the 303(d) list, a compilation of the streams and lakes in Tennessee that are "water quality limited," according to TDEC's Web site.
  Streams included in this list need additional pollution controls. The report states, "Water quality limited streams are those that have one or more properties that violate water quality standards. They are considered impaired by pollution and not fully meeting designated uses."
  Sink Creek, Town Creek, Goose Creek, Furnace Creek, and Roan Creek are all classified as a Category 5 on the list.
  Wilbert Griffith, member of the group, said, "The 303(d) list has listed 5 streams that are on the list right now that are all category 5, which means they cannot take any more pollution. All of these are going to be adjacent to the cow manure dumping area.
  "These people (from TDEC) that made the 303(d) list are the same people who are going to be issuing the permits. They are already saying these streams have reached their level of pollution and they can't take any more pollution, but they are saying that we are going to go ahead and issue a permit. What is that going to do to the streams?"
  Another issue of concern for the group is the potential damage that comes directly from manure lagoons and spraying of the liquid manure on local fields. According to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, approximately 29 percent of the spills and other discharges that reached waterways were caused by problems with manure lagoons. North Carolina is second only to the state of Iowa in hog CAFOs.
  North Carolina Senator John Edwards presented a bill, known as CLEAN, "Concentrated Livestock Existing Alongside Nature Act," to Congress asking for the regulation of "CAFOs for the protection of the environment and public health."
  Earl Taylor, Jr., who also lives within site of the proposed land, said, "This is a big experiment for this part of the country. No CAFOs have ever been in the Appalachian Mountain range, because of the rapid runoff. This situation will be a test case for all of Tennessee and the Appalachian Mountain range.
  "This past spring we had a real tough flood. It washed everything that was loose. There was boulders that rolled down that creek by my house about that big around (gesturing with arms in a large circle). It was right around this time that we needed someone to say, 'hey, this could wash away.' After the flood everyone said, 'I can see why you don't want that thing'."
  One expert the group has cited for information is Dr. William J. Weida, of the Colorado College Department of Economics and also the head of GRACE Factory Farm Project. Weida claimed in a report before the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission that "CAFOs generate an estimated 575 billion pounds of animal manure yearly. CAFO-generated manure has constituents and byproducts of health concern including heavy metals, antibiotics, pathogen bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as dust, mold, bacteria endotoxins and volatile gases; CAFO generated manure being uneconomical to transport for any distance, it is typically stored in open or covered pits or lagoons and later spread or sprayed untreated on nearby cropland, posing additional risks to public health."
  Taylor told a story of how the neighbors of the Granite, N.C. farm complained of the smell of manure lingering for more than two days after being sprayed onto neighboring fields. Members of the group that visited said neighbors complained about frequent manure spills onto roadways. One common problem was, if a car drove over the spill, maggots would stick into the tire tread and fall out in garages after the car was parked.
  Another spokesman for the group, Steve Ferguson, claims the approximate number of 700 cows in the dairy can produce as much waste as 15,800 people per year.
  About the help of different organizations experienced in fighting against CAFOs, Ferguson added, "We have taken their suggestions and worked with them and tried to do the best job we can by taking the research that we have and putting it into use. This is a national battle. These battles are going on all over the United States because people have realized the damage that these CAFOs can do."