CROTON, Ohio - One year ago, Robert and Rosella Bear were among a group of neighbors fighting to get Ohio's largest egg farm shut down. Now they and others say that stench and fly problems are greatly reduced since Ohio Fresh Eggs took over and scaled down the former Buckeye Egg Farm.
The Bears still are suing to ensure the new owners install air filters at the Croton-based company's operations in Marseilles in northwest Ohio. But they said they enjoy summer nights outdoors for the first time in years and can discuss any complaints directly with a company representative whose job is to visit them about weekly.
"I drive by and, if I see someone outside, I always stop," said Harry Palmer, community relations director. "And I bring them eggs."
Ohio Fresh Eggs got permission in February to take over barns that were in the process of closing under state order after years of neighbor complaints, court contempt rulings, and lawsuits over stench, fly infestations, and manure spills. The federal government also fined Buckeye Egg $880,600 for air pollution violations.
The new owners, Don Hershey and Orland Bethel, agreed to install $1.6 million worth of pollution controls. As well as replacing aged barns, Ohio Fresh Egg is installing machinery that dries manure, reducing smell and fly outbreaks.
At its peak, Buckeye Egg had more than 14 million hens producing eggs at four cities in three counties. It produced about 2.6 billion eggs annually, making it the nation's fourth-largest producer.
Ohio Fresh Eggs has about 4.4 million laying hens and 1 million pullets - or immature birds - in its Hardin and Wyandot county barns. When it finishes tearing down and rebuilding all 64 barns at Croton in Licking County, it will have more than 8 million hens there.
The farms are now producing up to 5.7 million eggs daily, down from about 7 million daily for Buckeye Egg.
The Bears were among neighbors who spoke against Buckeye Egg at a hearing last August when the former owners were trying to get their operating permits restored.
This summer, Rosella Bear counted 90 flies on a sticky strip in one month - the same amount she could catch in a week before.
"We barely notice the manure small at all," she said.
The couple still worries about air pollution from dust, and are seeking through their lawsuit to force the company to install air filters on barn exhaust fans. Palmer said Ohio Fresh Eggs is testing the effectiveness of the filters at a few barns and might install more.