County can’t act yet on chicken houses; ordinance presented for consideration
There was no chance of any action being taken, but Wilkes County Commissioners assured a packed house that all concerns would be heard on any issue but specifically on issues surrounding recent discussions about the location of additional poultry houses in Wilkes County.
At the commission’s February meeting, a 60-day moratorium was imposed on the building of poultry houses in order to allow the Wilkes County Planning Commission to consider the development of an ordinance to deal with the impact those houses might have on nearby water supplies and neighborhoods.
A full house at that meeting voiced its concerns over those issues, as well as the bad smell associated with poultry houses. The full house again last Thursday at the March meeting was ready for more of the same and voiced those concerns again even though Commission Chairman Sam Moore explained that no action would be taken until the Planning Commission meets and makes its recommendation.
“We take recommendations from the Planning Commission and since they haven’t met yet, there’s really nothing for us to address today,” Moore said, and he expressed his pleasure that the crowd was there. He also encouraged anyone who had any new thoughts or ideas to speak. “We are here to listen to you. You don’t have to get on an agenda to speak at our meetings,” he said. “We want everybody to be able to say what they want to say and we are here to listen.”
But he also encouraged those in attendance to attend the meeting of the Planning Commission, which has yet to be scheduled, and express their views there.
“The reason the Planning Commission is there is to make recommendations to us,” Moore explained. “If we’re going to do things without their recommendations, then we don’t need the Planning Commission.” Once such a recommendation is made, the County Commission will consider its adoption and act accordingly.
Having also spoken at the February meeting, Susan Abramson, addressed the commissioners again and reported that she and others had been working on a proposal to solve the problem.
“We understand the Planning Commission’s review of the poultry house issues has started,” she said. “To support this process, we delivered to the Planning Commission a copy of a proposed poultry house ordinance.” She further explained that the proposed ordinance was taken “essentially word-for-word” from an ordinance adopted in Greene County last April.
“We adapted that ordinance to Wilkes County’s practices and ordinances; plus, we added in the current Wilkes County 1,000-foot setback from residential structures,” she said. “Our proposed poultry house ordinance strikes a fair balance among the interest of local residents, farmers already established in the county, and new poultry house operations.”
Other noteworthy points of the proposed ordinance include a $0.05 per animal application fee based on the capacity of the proposed operation; a 1,500-foot setback from various public buildings; buffer zones on the outer perimeters of confinement areas; paragraphs concerning odors, traffic, and other nuisances; and other points.
Abramson further asked for an extension of the moratorium until after the Planning Commission offers its recommendations and the board acts. However, the moratorium already extends beyond the date of the next meeting of the board, so an extension was delayed until that time, if needed.
Still, a discussion followed with various visitors offering their opinions and questions to be considered.
John Carter spoke up saying that a proposal for a “mega operation” with 16 poultry houses on one location and eight on another was “really the reason that we’re here. People can come into the county and buy land and do as they please, but the real concern is whether people coming in from the outside who have no connection other than making an investment and whether they are going to manage that investment and whether they are going to be good neighbors or be neighbors at all and coming in and doing things that don’t really benefit the county. They really degrade the quality of life. … Things have changed from the way they were 10 years ago.”
Moore explained that it’s illegal to exclude an operation of any kind “just because it’s big,” or small for that matter. “If it’s just that they’re big, or from somewhere else, that won’t hold up,” he said, adding that the reason for the moratorium was “about water quality and the impact to neighborhoods. That was something we felt like we could do.”
“The basic problem is that all individuals in business don’t want a lot of competition, you don’t want somebody coming in and putting you out of business,” County Attorney Charles LeGette explained. “Those are very normal, human, legitimate concerns. But they are not concerns that the Georgia Constitution gives us the authority to regulate. Our authority does allow us to create ordinances for the public good ,” he continued. “There is a correlation between how many chicken houses you can put in one spot, sooner or later, to water quality and air quality and traffic and congestion and the enjoyment of the community. That’s the legal and appropriate approach, after the Planning Commission hears from all of you and considers it.”
A secondary discussion ensued concerning the dumping of waste water on at least two farms in Wilkes County. The practice is legal and regulated as prescribed by the EPD and Department of Agriculture, according to Moore. Concerning the possibility of excluding such a practice from Wilkes County, Moore cited a similar situation in which White County attempted an exclusion but was struck down in court.
“Isn’t it something worth fighting for?” Carter asked. “There is a general consensus here that is wanting to have our land rights protected. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to tough it out. I just want what’s best for this county and I want to see us protected from people who don’t have any good interest in this county.”
LeGette pointed out that the proper process has already been started. “The job of this commission is to somehow sort out where is the middle ground between people who need to make a living farming, and the people who live nearby and are impacted by the farming operation,” he said. “How we sort that out and where the balance is, in the public interest and for the public good, it what this is all about.”
When concern was raised over compliance with regulations and responsible operation of poultry houses, those who operate them spoke up.
“Most people that I know do take their neighbors’ concerns into consideration when spreading chicken litter,” Brett McAvoy said. “I back away from streams, I stay away from public roadways and property lines, all such as that. I know it stinks. It’s an all-natural fertilizer. They [the bird owners] are as concerned as a lot of us are about perception in the community.”
Moore encouraged all those in attendance to go to the Planning Commission meetings. “Tell them what your recommendations are,” he said. “There needs to be a balance. We are a farming and forestry community. These people need to make a living but we also want to protect people’s property. So tell them what you think.”
All of the commissioners, including Esper Lee, Ed Geddings, Charles Jackson, Clem Slaton, and Moore, were in attendance at the meeting held last Thursday, March 9, in the Wilkes County courthouse. Also attending were County Clerk Karen Burton, EMS Director Blake Thompson, LeGette, and about 50 or more visitors.
In other business:
. The board approved the low bid of $609,206.50 from C&H Paving for the resurfacing of about five miles at the far end of Broad Road. Five other bids ranged from $618,485 to $757,168. The project will be funded by the state’s LMIG program and TIA money. None of the $609,206 will be paid with local ad valorem taxes.
. Sales Tax revenues for the month of January amounted to $78,049.48 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax; $50,730.44 in Local Option Sales Tax; and $70,826.10 in TSPLOST.
. Moore announced that the county is taking bids for a roof at the McGill-Woodruff Ag Center and that bids for a roof on the Health Department will be taken in the near future.
. Thompson reported that the Red Cross affiliation has been moved back to Wilkes County and will allow him to help service displaced families in a matter of minutes instead of hours. He also reported that his department will host the annual East Central Georgia Region Six EMS banquet for 24 counties on April 17 at The Pope Center at 6 p.m.
. Moore reported on various economic development activities including the groundbreaking for Southern H Forest Products, construction at the new juvenile detention center, and concrete removal at the IP site.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners will be held on Thursday, April 13, at 2 p.m. in the Wilkes County courthouse with a work session in the chairman’s office immediately prior beginning at 1 p.m.