DEFIANCE - Sooner or later, all four candidates for two Defiance County commissioner seats get around to talking about big farms.
In a county where agriculture - crops and livestock - represents close to 60 per cent of the economy, the office seekers know the importance and effect of the large dairy farms that have moved or may move there.
One of the commissioner's posts is open. Either Democrat Josephine Roehrig or Republican Tom Kime will win the job that pays $30,932 annually.
In the other race, Bernard Ryan, a Democrat, will oppose incumbent Republican Otto Nicely, the current commission president.
Each candidate recognizes that the issue of mega-farms is a hot topic, especially in the western part of the county where several are operating. Each candidate agrees that something must be done about the large-scale dairy operations.
Some people fear that mega-farms - with possible pollution problems, odor, and flies - will ruin the quality of life in their rural communities.
Mrs. Roehrig, 60, of Defiance is a photographer seeking office for the first time. She believes her background in retail business, real estate, and in education gives her a sense of what people need from a commissioner.
“I'm opposed to mega-farms coming in because there are no state regulations,'' Mrs. Roehrig said. “We have information that they cause contamination.''
Her opponent, Mr. Kime, 52, owns a farm in Tiffin Township. He is president of the Brunersburg Water and Sewer Board and former owner of an automobile parts business.
He cites his experience in business as an asset on a commission that deals with “$50 million to $55 million that comes through the county, and 50 or 60 agencies.
“It's important to elect commissioners dedicated and willing to work full time, even though it's supposed to be a part-time job,'' Mr. Kime said.
Mr. Kime is not opposed to megafarms, but believes the county must remain cautious.
“Commissioners have limited power of control, but we'll need to work with the big farms and their neighbors and the state legislature to find a plan that benefits residents and the farms too,” he said.
Commissioners should be the ones to take steps to set up the rules mega-farms must follow, he said.
“I know two things about the farms: They are here, and they are legal at this time,” he said.
Mr. Ryan, a 74-year-old Democrat challenging Mr. Nicely, does not hesitate to call the mega-farms the county's biggest potential problem.
“I'm not in favor of mega-farms here until controls have been established. There's an awful lot of manure to be handled with that many cows, and we're concerned about where it goes into ditches and into the water supply,” said Mr. Ryan, who lives in Adams Township near Jewell.
“Manure is supposed to be buried, but if they don't do that, there is no way to make them. One farm near Farmer is milking 600 head of cows and uses 100,000 gallons of water a day.”
Mr. Ryan, who ran a farm supply dealership in Jewell for many years, said rumors of “as many as 42 mega dairy farms planned for the five-county area ought to concern all voters.”
He favors family farms, he said, and understands he has an uphill battle against Mr. Nicely, an incumbent Republican in northwest Ohio.
“But I'm optimistic,” Mr. Ryan said.
He has campaigned vigorously, spending a week at the county fair, appearing at Hicksville Hitching Post Days and other festivals, and putting out road signs.
Mr. Nicely, 57, points to “a lot of progress in the last four years” as his endorsement.
“We've got millions of dollars in grant money, economic development continues to grow,” he said.
His examples are the $110 million Toledo Edison generating plant that went up in Defiance following county negotiations on such issues as tax abatement and a $10 million Auglaize River waste water project done with federal and state funding.
He calls dealing with waste water the county's biggest problem, pointing to a need to deal with an area of residential and businesses that contributes to septic tank waste “dumped into the Tiffin River.”
Economic development must be pursued, with road, sewer, and bridges improved and new industry invited in, said Mr. Nicely.
He said he also favors expanding the county airport to accommodate bigger airplanes.
Mr. Nicely, who is campaigning for a second four-year term, does not oppose mega dairy farms.
But he said he will insist they be subject to waste management plans and that such plans need to be legislated.
“More will come in here and megafarm owners have a right to operate on their own land,” Mr. Nicely said. “We need state laws to deal with them, to control waster and protect water supplies.”
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