SPICELAND - A hog farm's much-debated request for a permit to expand near Spiceland has earned the approval of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

After holding a public meeting in Spiceland on June 12, IDEM issued its decision on 4D Livestock's permit request on Friday.

In the decision, IDEM said 4D Livestock "satisfied all the requirements" to receive the permit, which authorizes the construction of two new barns to hold 4,000 hogs each near 1669 W. Road 700S. The expansion will double the size of the hog farm, operated by Trent and Brandon Dishman.

Since late May, opponents of the farm's expansion plans have spoken out at public meetings and in written complaints to IDEM. They argue that the farm could cause environmental problems and could harm economic development at the Interstate 70 and Ind. 3 interchange about two miles away.

Those opponents hoped IDEM would reject the permit, but many of them also admitted that the permit's approval seemed inevitable because of what they see as pro-agriculture tendencies demonstrated by Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration.

As Barry Sneed, public information officer for IDEM, said on Monday, IDEM can only consider topics that its rules and regulations allow it to. So concerns about the odor, reduced property values and economic development were not within IDEM's authority to consider.

According to IDEM, when it comes to animal feeding operations, it can only regulate water quality concerns.

"It has to be based on a rule or regulation," Sneed said of a permit's consideration, "rather than opinion or the number of comments we receive or anything else."

In its decision, IDEM responded to many of the comments from opponents of the Dishmans' plans.

On manure, IDEM said land application of manure, as done by the Dishmans, "provides a high level of confidence that the potential of manure constituents reaching groundwater is minimized."

"However, residents are encouraged to test their well water for possible contamination with or without the nearby location of a confined feeding operation," IDEM added.

Friday's permit approval was the latest development in a month-long dispute over the farm's plans for growth.

During a Henry County Commissioners meeting on June 6, some opponents of 4D Livestock even mentioned a possible legal challenge to the farm's expansion.

Asked about that on Monday, Bob Hammersmith, one of the opponents, declined to comment.

The dispute over 4D Livestock's permit may eventually lead to new rules for confined animal feeding operations in Henry County.

The Dishmans never had to go before a county board for an up or down vote on their plans because under county law, their hog farm expansion doesn't actually qualify as a confined animal feeding operation or CAFO.

The county's rules are based on a hog-to-space ratio. Because the Dishmans plan to allow more than the required space, their hog farm doesn't fall under the county's CAFO rules.

Also, because of that, the Dishmans were automatically granted a building permit from the county for their new barns.

The situation has inspired the Henry County Commissioners to publicly state that they want to change the county rules on CAFOs. And in early June, the commissioners instituted a so-called moratorium on all CAFO development in the county.

Earlier this month, Commissioner Bill Cronk, a member of the planning commission, said he believes the commission will alter that CAFO rules in the near future, so operations like 4D Livestock can't, as he said, "fall through the cracks."

"It needs to be changed," Cronk said of the rules.
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