Peach Bottom Township supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance Monday that revises the regulation of large farming operations, but some residents are unhappy that local officials will not inspect leak detection systems in manure storage facilities.
The revision stems from a lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office against the township several years ago involving Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. In 2008, the zoning hearing board denied Eric Gemmill's request to create a 4,400-hog CAFO.
The state attorney general's office alleges the township's zoning ordinance violates the Nutrient and Odor Management Act, the Right to Farm Act, the Clean Stream Law and the Municipalities Planning Code among others.
The case is moving toward trial, township solicitor Gilbert Malone said. The planning commission has been working on revisions to the zoning ordinance for a few years.
Some residents spoke out against officials deleting a section in the proposed revisions that would have allowed the township to inspect leak detection systems in manure storage facilities. They see it as a way to protect the quality of the water.
"They're taking all the teeth our of our ordinance," resident Laura Yanney said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection inspects the leak detection systems, but some residents wanted the township to be present for the inspections, too.
It's a way to monitor what the state's doing, resident Maria Payan said.
Some residents, including Yanney, also have voiced concerns that DEP is short-handed.
But supervisors told the crowd at the meeting the township cannot override state law.
Supervisor John V. Johnson said the state regulates CAFOs, and the revisions to the zoning ordinance that passed Monday are more in line with state guidelines.
"Even if the township was there, the state is conducting the inspection - not the township," Johnson said.
The township still intends to receive the results of the state inspection, he said.
Resident and farm owner Chris Neumann said he's concerned about CAFOs and the weak regulation of them, but he thinks the township did "a pretty good job" with the revision to the ordinance.
"I think all in all, it had to be done," he said.
History of the case
2007: Owners of the Gemmill farm in Peach Bottom Township proposed adding a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation that would house up to 4,400 hogs.
2008: The zoning hearing board denied the application after 16 months of hearings. The board based its decision on a township regulation requiring that CAFOs be placed on poor-quality farm ground. The state Department of Environmental Protection had already granted the Gemmill farm a permit for the operation, but it was contingent upon township approval.
The Gemmill family went on to expand its operation to 2,450 hogs, which is below the 2,999-hog CAFO threshold.
2009: The state Attorney General's office files a lawsuit against Peach Bottom Township, alleging the township's zoning ordinance violated the state's farming laws. The township amended its zoning ordinance.
Now: The lawsuit is progressing, and the case might go to trial this year, township solicitor Gilbert Malone said. Supervisors approved revisions to the zoning ordinance Monday night.