Citing concerns primarily about water quality, critics of a proposed 4,750-cow dairy farm in Hardin County yesterday urged the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority to refuse to sponsor a $7 million tax-exempt bond issue for the facility.
"We've got a watershed here that we as a community and an area have been protecting for a long time," said Phil Williams, a Perrysburg resident, holding up a map of the Ohio portion of the Lake Erie watershed during a hearing yesterday.
The Maumee River "is a lot better than it used to be, but we've still got a long ways to go."
The Deve Dairy itself would be south of Alger, Ohio, near the headwaters of the Scioto River. But Toledo-area opponents, led by Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms, say plans to spread manure from the farm on fields in that area could affect streams that feed into the Ottawa and Auglaize rivers, a tributary system of the Maumee.
They also say the project, which if built will be the largest dairy farm in Ohio, could become a precedent for more large dairy farms in the region.
"We have got to be concerned about what these facilities release," said Pat Nicholson, a former chairman of the port authority board of directors and the retired president of a local waste-management firm who spoke at the hearing as a private citizen.
Mr. Nicholson emphasized he does not oppose large dairy farms in principle but considers federal and state regulation of them to be woefully inadequate.
The port authority is involved because it is the state-designated economic development bonding agency for 30 Ohio counties, including Hardin.
About 15 people attended the hearing yesterday at the port authority's offices, and Jane Phillips, leader of the citizens' group, said she expects an even larger turnout this morning when the agency's board of directors meets to consider a resolution authorizing the bond issue for Deve.
No port directors attended yesterday's hearing, which was conducted by Jerry Arkebauer, the agency's vice president for finance and the board's assistant secretary and financial officer.
Mr. Arkebauer said he would present a summary to the board during this morning's meeting, which will begin at 8 a.m. at the port authority's offices, 1 Maritime Plaza.
Nor was any representative of the dairy farm present at the hearing, although the hearing record includes a "Deve Dairy fact sheet" submitted to the port authority beforehand that touts 35 new jobs, increased payroll and property tax bases, and the substitution of organic material for chemical fertilizers on the 6,307 acres upon which the dairy farm's manure production is proposed to be spread.
The sheet also said that the dairy farm would use locally grown feed crops and rely on local veterinary services and local businesses for supplies and equipment.
A letter from the Hardin County commissioners supporting the project "as long as all rules and regulations are followed" also will be turned over to the port board.
The dairy farm is to be operated by Walter Van Deurzen and his family, who live in the Netherlands but plan to move to the Alger area to operate it.
Deve Dairy is a corporation specifically set up by Van Deurzen Dairy LLC to develop the $17.5 million project.
Philip Bauer, a current Hardin County dairy farmer, questioned the project's economic benefits, arguing most of the jobs would be low-wage and that it would lead to increased demand for social services.
The dairy farm is to build twin million-gallon settling ponds and 22 million-gallon waste lagoons to manage liquefied manure from the facility.
The tax-exempt bonds are intended specifically to finance that part of the project.
Mr. Arkebauer noted repeatedly that no tax dollars or any other public obligation is involved in the bond issue, but speakers said conveying tax-exempt status to the debt would bind the port authority to the project anyway.
"Even though it's just a catalyst, it's still public funds and public support," said Sandy Bihn, executive director of Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper, a conservation group.
The port authority should "seek projects that protect and enhance" Lake Erie's western basin, she said.
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