COLUMBUS - After several years of controversy that made Buckeye Egg Farm the focal point in a heated debate over “factory farming,” the state yesterday ordered its closure.
“The pollution and nuisance problems caused by this farm during the last decade were intolerable,” Fred Dailey, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said in a written statement. “The sad legacy of mismanagement of Buckeye Egg Farm is rapidly coming to an end.”
Mr. Dailey ordered Buckeye Egg to close two barns a week, starting with the Marseilles facility in Wyandot County, the Croton farms in Licking County, the Goshen farm in Hardin County, and the Mount Victory barns in Hardin County.
That includes removing all birds, cleaning and removing feed from bins and conveyor lines, and draining all water lines and shutting off all water service, Mr. Dailey said.
He added that he took the “extreme action” after nine contempt of court charges against Buckeye Egg and a “history of significant non-compliance with environmental law.” That included water pollution and massive fly outbreaks.
Buckeye Egg - where 15 million hens have produced billions of eggs annually at massive farms - must close all of its barns by June 1, 2004, with all manure removed by that September.
Buckeye Egg released a written statement expressing regret at Mr. Dailey's orders, saying they would harm the company that German businessman Anton Pohlmann owns and also Ohio's economy.
“Buckeye Egg Farm will use all available options to immediately appeal this decision and are very optimistic. We have demonstrated our ability to operate effectively in recent months and believe that allowing new owners to purchase and operate our farms is a more practical approach,” the company said.
Becky Kibler, who lives about four miles from the large-scale farm in Marseilles and about 11/2 miles from a similar facility in Goshen, said Mr. Dailey made the right decision.
But she noted that Buckeye Egg can appeal the order within 30 days to the state Environmental Review Appeals Commission.
“I understand due process, but they've had their day in court and this is so wasteful of our tax dollars and it makes us suffer longer,” she said.
Mr. Dailey said the agriculture department will consider permit applications from prospective new owners of Buckeye Egg Farm.
“I am confident this farm's facilities can be assets to their communities if properly managed,” he said.
The state has received permit applications for Buckeye Egg facilities from Ise Eggs of Ohio and Ohio Fresh Eggs. It appears that Fresh Eggs is the manager of Buckeye Egg, said Deborah Abbott, of the state's livestock environmental permitting program.
Jack Shaner, a lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council, gave credit to Gov. Bob Taft's administration for the decision to revoke 12 permits and deny 11 others that allowed Buckeye Egg to operate.
“Finally, the state is getting the message that when it comes to environmental crime, just like violent crime, some repeat offenders cannot be rehabilitated. It has taken awhile for that to sink in, and I hope it has sunk in,” Mr. Shaner said.
In April, 2000, saying its patience had run out after repeated violations of environmental law, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said it would revoke the 15 wastewater permits that allowed Buckeye Egg to operate large-scale farms in Hardin, Licking, and Wyandot counties.
In August, 2002, oversight of farms with more than 1,000 beef cattle, 2,500 hogs, or 100,000 laying hens was transferred from the state EPA to the state agriculture department.
Yesterday's announcement was a victory for rural residents who lived near Buckeye Egg's large-scale farms and pressured the state to enforce environmental regulations, said Susan Studer King, community outreach coordinator for the Ohio Environmental Council.
“It's great news for Ohio's environment, too. It has been a black eye for Ohio for too many years,” she said.