The Ogden Township Board may have found a novel way to prevent megadairies from coming to town - limiting how much water they may use.
The township approved an ordinance this week that essentially would require Vreba-Hoff to seek an exemption from the new regulation before it develops its proposed 5,000-cow dairy.
Vrebra-Hoff LLC spokesman Cecilia Conway said this is the first time a community has taken such a tactic. She has asked for a copy of the new ordinance to evaluate its legality.
"The township is basically concerned with the removal of water, and I can understand their concerns. But if this ordinance was passed because of concerns with this project coming to Ogden, then this is disappointing," Ms. Conway said.
The newly proposed farm would be on 200 acres at Mulberry and Treat roads in Lenawee County, about 20 miles northwest of Sylvania. Manure from the dairy would be spread on up to 4,800 acres in the area.
Ogden does not have a public water supply, so wells are the township's only source of water.
The new "Water Conservation Ordinance" states it will provide
"for the conservation of the natural supply of water to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of citizens."
Any landowner who pumps more than 24,840 gallons of water per day will now have to apply to the board for a waiver.
Ms. Conway said the proposed megadairy would use 150,000 to 175,000 gallons per day.
Residents and township officials say the water supply already is too low and that a large development like that proposed by Vebra-Hoff could dry up neighboring wells.
"The whole purpose of this ordinance is to preserve our water supply. We are not trying to prevent the dairy from coming," township supervisor James Goetz said. "The ordinance pertains to everybody. We're just trying to protect the citizens and the wells they have in place."
Jeff Juby, the Blissfield-based attorney hired by the township to handle its dealings with Vreba-Hoff, said the water ordinance would be discriminatory - and thereby illegal - if it singled out one specific entity.
However, he said, the ordinance is broad enough to pass a legal challenge, because it applies to "domestic, agricultural, commercial, industrial, and recreational uses."
In December, Mr. Juby shied away from restrictions on water usage because of worries about possibly violating state law.
But he said after further reviewing the state's Natural Resources and Environmental Act - specifically its rules regarding large water withdrawal - he has determined the rules simply apply to withdrawals attached to a common distribution system.
"Our ordinance refers to withdrawals of water that are not connected to a common supply," he said. "The thought is that this takes it out of the legislative restrictions."
"I think we have a reasonable defense based on how we have tailored the ordinance," he said.
The ordinance calls any use of water greater than 24,840 gallons "unreasonable, unnecessary, and a nuisance."
In addition, it states that exceeding this limit will constitute a municipal civil infraction punishable by a $1,000 fine per day.
Ms. Conway said Vreba-Hoff continues to move forward on its plans for the megadairy.
She said the county has provided her firm with two test well permits, and the company probably will need another month to finish testing the water supply.
"We do now have one well on site that has sufficient production and we are now looking at some new technology and policies for water conservation at the farm," she said.
"We are just evaluating our water needs and additional practices to minimize the use of groundwater."
She said Vreba-Hoff would like to begin construction this summer.
Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch