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EPA must reconsider megafarm air permit

MARSEILLES, Ohio - Neighbors of Buckeye Egg's chicken facility in southern Wyandot County hope an appeals court decision will force the company to scale back some of its mammoth operations.

The 10th District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency erred when it allowed Buckeye Egg to add 800,000 chickens to its Marseilles farm. Judge Donna Bowman, writing for the court, said the EPA exempted the facility from air-pollution rules without testing emissions first.

The appeals court told the EPA to revisit the issue.

Bob and Rosella Bear, who live 1,800 feet from the Marseilles egg farm and its 3.3 million chickens, said the decision was gratifying after years of foul odors, tainted water, and fly infestation. “We finally won something,” Mrs. Bear said yesterday. “We've been fighting this for seven years. It's been a long battle. We hope that it will help others that are facing a situation similar to ours.”

The ruling, she added, “should show that EPA should be doing some rules so people in other parts of the state don't have to put up with what we have.”

Attorneys for the state and Buckeye Egg argued that an inspection showed there was no need to filter air from manure lagoons under the company's chicken barns.

Heather Lauer, an EPA spokeswoman, said agency officials were disappointed with the court's decision. In light of the ruling, she said the EPA will begin reviewing past permits.

She said authorities in both the EPA's division of air pollution control as well as surface water will conduct the reviews. Ms. Lauer said it was unknown how long the work would take. “We'll just have to take a look at it,” Ms. Lauer said.

Bill Glass, chief operating officer for Buckeye Egg, said the company will talk with its attorneys about appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court. “We're considering that option,” he said.

In the meantime, he said the company would cooperate with EPA officials on any review of the firm's expansion permits for Marseilles.

“Now that they've been remanded there, I trust we can work with the Ohio EPA,” Mr. Glass said.

Becky Kibler, who lives about four miles from the Marseilles site and about 11/2 miles from a similar Buckeye Egg facility in Goshen, said she'd like the state to require Buckeye Egg to slim down its operations. In particular, the company should have to remove the 800,000 extra chickens approved by the EPA, she said.

“That would be wonderful, especially since one of the solutions the attorney general has suggested, with all their problems, is to downsize,” she said. “This would be a good solution.”

Ms. Kibler and other opponents of Buckeye Egg point to air-quality tests the U.S. EPA performed in June at the Marseilles facility. The agency found that the company was releasing pollutants above permitted levels.

The U.S. EPA is studying whether to require Buckeye Egg to obtain a federal air-quality permit and add pollution controls. Such requirements generally have been restricted to industrial facilities that produce more than 100 tons of particulate matter a year.

“The U.S. EPA has come in, they have done air-quality testing, and they say Buckeye Egg should have to get a federal permit, because they're violating federal air-quality standards,” Ms. Kibler said.

Besides federal scrutiny, Buckeye Egg faces a hearing next week in Licking County Common Pleas Court on contempt-of-court charges. The Ohio attorney general's office has accused the company of illegally dumping discharged storm water and egg wash into a creek near Marseilles.

Buckeye Egg has faced contempt charges in Ohio eight times in connection to its facilities in Wyandot, Hardin, and Licking counties. This time, the state is asking the court to make Buckeye Egg close some of its barns and get rid of 3.6 million chickens.

Mrs. Bear said she and her husband, Bob, plan to attend the hearing, which starts March 28. “We've come this far,” she said. “I don't think we're going to give up.”

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