Johnson Co. residents speak out against CAFO

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

MOUNTAIN CITY -- Debate continues over the possible benefits and liabilities of a large dairy business slated to locate in the Neva community of Johnson County in the spring 2005. Mud hasn't been slung yet, but it isn't mud that has many residents squirming.
   Carolina Holsteins owner, Jerry Anderson, plans to move his dairy business from Granite, N.C. to Dug Hill Road. The CAFO, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, a term coined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for large dairy businesses, will house 700 dairy cattle.
   Many Johnson County residents, especially those living near the proposed site, are worried about, among other things, the stench that manure from a large number of cattle can create. Dan Taylor's parents live across the street from the proposed site.
   Taylor said he is worried about the stench because of a two-acre "lagoon", or holding pond, that will be built to hold the waste per federal regulations. Waste from CAFOs must be allowed to ferment as part of the treatment to dispose of it as required by the Environmental Protection Agency.
   Recently, massive amounts of rain flooded creeks and streams throughout Johnson County. Taylor emphasized that, if the holding ponds were already in place, the waste from them would have flooded the area.
   While County Mayor Dick Grayson has tried to remain neutral about a CAFO locating in the county, he said he changed his mind after flooding that occurred on Nov. 19. Grayson surveyed the county via helicopter and witnessed vast amounts of damage when the helicopter flew over the area of the proposed CAFO.
   "If the waste would have been overflowed, it would have gone right down on the people," Grayson said.
   Taylor, co-owner of TNT Outdoors in Mountain City, said Roan Creek is classified by the EPA as a 303-D stream, "because of the wastewater treatment plant. This means that the creek can't handle more pollution without killing fish and harming people."
   He claimed several fish kills have occurred in areas close to CAFOs across the United States.
   Johnson County experiences significant snowfall each winter, and Taylor also worries that if a heavy snowfall occurred and lingered on the ground for a long period of time, the manure would be spread, unavoidably, on top of the snow. "Once the snow melts, it will run right off with the snow," said Taylor.
   The road that leads to the site will also need to undergo improvements to handle a heavy load of tanker trucks.
   Another concern is the availability of water in the area. Taylor said a normal cow will consume 20-30 gallons of water per day, but since the cattle will be enclosed, approximately 350,000 gallons of water would be needed for the 700 cattle housed in the facility.
   Many residents in the area have wells and springs. Taylor said that, during a dry summer, the water supply would be severely drained.
   "They would be stealing everyone else's water," Taylor said. "I think the detrimental effects far outweigh the positives 10-to-1. We would like to try our best to get people behind us," said Taylor. A petition has already collected approximately 900 signatures opposing the CAFO.
   On Nov. 20, the county commission passed a resolution to ask the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to deny the permit for the Class II CAFO.
   According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, "A Class I permit requires that public notice be circulated within the geographical area of the proposed facility and that a public hearing on the proposed permit be held.
   "Class II permits do not have individual public hearings. The public comment period for the Class II General Permit only occurs every five years when the permit is written that applies to all Class II operations."