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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

Dairy-farm expansion prompts pollution fear

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A proposal to expand a Putnam County dairy farm by more than 1,500 cows may make it a cleaner facility in the long run, an Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesman said.

But residents in the area are concerned that more cows only will bring more pollution.

Van Ham Dairy, located just south of Continental, Ohio, has proposed expanding its facilities as well as its operation. Owners Jan and Anja Van Ham applied for a permit in March - a requirement for any farm wanting to house more than 1,000 animal units.

Deb Abbott, a state Agriculture Department spokesman, said yesterday that the permit has been reviewed by department officials and is now before the public for comment.

If approved, the permit would allow the farm to raise its total number of cows from 690 to 2,250. But prior to that, the Van Hams would have to expand their manure storage facilities and, in doing so, likely would curb the number of accidental discharges that have plagued the farm in its first two years of operation.

“As a department, we definitely don't want to diminish the problems the farm has had,” Ms. Abbott said. “The farm has had a couple of problems with manure runoff, but mainly because their manure storage pond is not big enough for their operation.”

The permit application divides the expansion into two phases. During the first phase, the Van Hams want to build a larger manure storage pond as well as a barn to house 150 dry, or nonmilking, cows. Once completed to the satisfaction of the agriculture department, the farm would be allowed to raise its number of dairy cows to 825.

Phase two would not begin for an additional 12 months and would include increasing the barn capacity as well as building additional barns to house more cows.

Mr. Van Ham could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Abbott stressed that no cows would be allowed in until the new facilities were inspected and several plans - including manure management, mortality management, insect and rodent control, and emergency management - are in place and approved.

“Once it's finalized, they will have a plan to work under, and we'll be back at least two times a year to make sure that they are doing what they need to,” she said.

Van Ham Dairy, which opened on County Rd. 22 in October, 2001, has had some problems to date. The state Department of Environmental Quality received four complaints of waste runoff in area waterways, the latest reported on July 1. According to a background report on the farm from the Department of Agriculture, at least one of those complaints resulted in an incident of noncompliance.

However, the report found that there are “no substantial issues of noncompliance regarding Van Ham Dairy.”

If the proposed expansion is approved, Van Ham Dairy would be one of only two animal farms in the county with more than 1,000 animal units. In the case of dairy farms, 700 cows equals 1,000 animal units.

That scares members of the local watchdog group, Citizens of Putnam County for Clean Air & Water, who believe the expansions will be “devastating” to the neighboring villages of Continental and Dupont.

Kathy Burkhart, a member of the group, said that she does not believe what she called a “bigger hole in the ground” will satisfy the amount of manure that the farm is producing.

She said she would like the state to make Van Ham Dairy prove that it can handle the manure its 690 cows produce before officials allow it to bring in more animals.

“He has not proven he can operate the farm at its present size without polluting, not to mention the fact that there is an odor problem there as well,” Mrs. Burkhart said. “The idea of tripling its size, to us, makes no sense whatsoever.”

Doug Durliat, program administer of the Putnam Soil and Water Conservation District, said his agency has been involved in the investigation of complaints at the dairy farm. He added that the owners have cooperated with his agency.

Mr. Durliat said he plans to attend the public meetings at which the permits will be discussed. The Department of Agriculture plans to present information on the permits at the American Legion Hall in Ottawa at 6 p.m. Sept. 25 and again at Continental High School at 7 p.m. Oct. 7. A final meeting will be held Oct. 16 at Continental High School.



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