Two large dairy farms planned for the Woodville area have received their state permits, but some local opponents say they'll watch closely to see if cow manure contaminates local drinking water wells.
"All we can ask for is an impact study in case they destroy our roads or our drinking water so we can ask them what they're going to do about that," Woodville Mayor Richard Harman said.
Owners of the Hillbex and New Ijsselstein dairy farms were granted permits in February and March by the Ohio Department of Agriculture after two to three years of engineering and environmental reviews of the farms' proposed construction plans.
The permits allow the farms to have more than 700 cows and to process and sell the manure they create to the local farmers.
Many Sandusky County residents, including Mayor Harman, fear that manure could end up in their water supply.
The public had 30 days to appeal the companies' permits.
Cecilia Conway, who is a partner with Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development, a Wauseon-based dairy company that works with both farms, said construction should start soon.
"We do expect to start construction on those at any time since the weather is now conducive," she said.
"From the start of construction it takes about 9 months on average to construct the facility. You'd probably be getting cows right at the beginning of the year, January 2009.
Sharon Gaich is a member of a local community activist group called Sandusky County Citizens Protecting Our Resources, which has been working since 2006 to keep the mega dairy farms from coming to the area.
Ms. Gaich said she is having her water tested by the Sandusky County Health Department to prove her well is not presently contaminated.
The process is called baseline water testing.
"It's important to establish a baseline that our water is not contaminated so when the facility is up and running and manure is being spread throughout the area, we can monitor it and be able to say it wasn't there before," she said.
Ms. Dennis said the county is providing the water testing free of charge to the residents because the owners of the two mega farms paid for the residents' first tests.
She said Wood County Health Department officials, who have more experience with the process, have been training Sandusky County personnel to conduct the procedure.
"We actually have only had maybe one or two calls at this point, but we sent letters within a one-mile radius of each of the farms," she said. "We'll do sampling at no cost to them. We're going to start that sampling as soon as we get a response to those letters."
Wood County may have more experience with mega farms, but Environmental Health Supervisor Jerry Bingham said contaminated water hasn't been an issue.
"The complaints are minimal," he said. "At first we had some complaints of manure getting into the ditches and creeks. Initially we did a lot of sampling, but it's been very quiet in the last year here."
Kelly Harvey, community relations liaison for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said she can't recall any large livestock farms in Ohio meeting more resistance than that provided by Sandusky and Wood counties in recent years.
She said the agriculture department will monitor the farms closely to make sure they comply with state and federal health and environmental regulations.
"We do inspections during the construction of the facility to make sure it is built according to what was planned," she said. "Every six months, we have livestock inspectors that go out to see how are they handling their mortality and how are they handling their manure. There's 200 pages of regulations that only the large farms have to follow."
Ms. Conway said the farm owners are looking forward to start milking our cows and be good neighbors to the surrounding community.
Miss Harvey said both farms will be an estimated 60 to 100 acres and will milk more than 2,100 cows.