Non-Regulated Agriculture will be legislative issue
At the start of each year, we journalists know the calendar has turned by the appearance of one event on our list of things to consider.
The SC Press Association’s Legislative Day comes around in early January, just after most of us are recovering from New Year’s Eve.
For 2018, the date is January 4, when journalists and legislators will collide for give and take about the upcoming legislative cycle. Most in my profession will be interested in other things, notably who’s going to be the next governor. But an issue worth watching was home-grown right here in Laurens County.
For two years, we have covered concerns by people in Mountville about the concentration of poultry producing operations saturating their small community. Officials in Clinton are unconcerned - since it’s a Mountville issue - but these poultry businesses form a blockade for Clinton’s growth to its southwest. Another operation is north of us, at Renno, and another is envisioned to our west, near the Memorial Home and Laurens County Airport. The Sumter National Forest blocks us to the northeast.
When the people in Mountville started getting vocal, the state House of Representatives passed H3929 (on the final day of the 2017 session) and sent it to the Senate. Basically, the bill takes away regulation of these giant businesses from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control and leaves it to the devices of the chicken growers. An exorbitant fee to challenge these businesses was included in the original bill, but that has been removed. Along with the Right To Farm Act - which says local governments cannot control agriculture - H3929 basically declares open season on anyone with the gumption to challenge Big Poultry.
Signing onto a petition opposing the House bill immediately were 184 people. “Many were from Mountville, Cross Hill, Laurens, and Clinton but others all the way to Charleston also signed,” a statement about the petition said.
As for Mountville, the matter remains in court. A citizens group took the Coggins/Young case to an administrative law judge earlier this year. The group had another hearing set for the day before Halloween on the Alexander/Green case. No word yet on rulings.
These are four of the five new poultry houses - adding millions of chickens and their waste to the Mountville community - permitted by SC DHEC. The state agency allows you to request and attend a hearing, but it doesn’t do much good. You can appeal to their board, but they don’t have to hear it.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, has announced it is completing an environmental assessment on yet more chicken houses near Mountville.
These are two 66 ft. X 600 ft. broiler houses located at 2647 Hwy 39, Mountville. There broiler houses will have capacity at any one time of 80,000 birds.
A published announcement says, “FSA is accepting comments on the potential effects of the proposed project on protected resources and the human environment through 30 days from the date of this publication.” The publication date was Nov. 1.
So, by Dec. 1, another agency will be set to authorize more broilers in Mountville, having done its “due diligence.” Most people don’t read, and fewer even care about, legal notices in the newspaper. But, for those directly affected, this is exactly WHY these notices are in the newspaper.
You have a right to know what is moving in next door to you.
Publishing these notices on-line - a move proposed by some on-line purveyors and legislators - would make them even LESS noticeable. That would keep you even LESS informed.
This “butting of heads” between agriculture/industry and residential/urban is just going to get more pronounced in coming years. West Columbia has a similar situation with a House of Raeford facility. Industrial-size farms are sucking the life out of South Carolina’s rivers, some of which “rebelled” in the 2015 100-year flood. In 2016 and 2017, most of South Carolina experienced some sort of whiplash from hurricanes - if these powerful storms smash into the growing number of large buildings full of chickens, freeing their waste to run into gullies, then streams, then rivers, then lakes - not to mention nearby houses, closer than ever because of weakened-by-law regulation - the environmental damage could be significant. I know we are a state with a certain legislative agenda - we have defunded Planned Parenthood, we have outlawed Sanctuary Cities, we are refusing to advertise that right now is the time for the people who need it to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, we are pro-business and anti-union - I get all of it.
That shouldn’t blind us to reality, however. Some businesses need a watchdog.
(Vic MacDonald is Editor of The Clinton Chronicle. Reach him at 833-1900 or firstname.lastname@example.org)