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Man wants to process hogs on W.Va. farm

December 03, 1998

Shannon DonleyBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Shannon Donley said all he is trying to do is survive as a farmer, but his neighbors are not responding favorably to his proposal to open a hog processing facility.

Neighbors say they worry about odor from the plant, about waste from the plant reaching ground water supplies, and about the possibility a big corporation might take it over should Donley ever sell it.

"He's trying to gut one of the main purposes of zoning," said Paul Burke, who lives in the nearby Riverside Acres subdivision.


Donley, a fourth-generation farmer, raises hogs in an agricultural zone. But zoning regulations do not allow meat processing facilities like the one Donley wants to operate.

Donley has applied for a variance to the zoning regulations so he can construct a building to cut and package between 120 and 140 hogs a month.

Donley and his attorney, Peter L. Chakmakian, said there are many misconceptions about such plants.

Donley said people have assumed his operation will be similar to huge hog farms commonly seen in North Carolina.

Donley said his proposed processing plant will produce less waste than a family living in a typical three-bedroom house. The building will measure about 30 feet by 50 feet, and two to four people will work in the operation. It will be used only to cut up hogs raised on Donley's farm near Moler's Cross Roads southeast of Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Donley said he wants to process his own meat to eliminate "the middleman" and stabilize his cash flow.

Nationally, swine prices are at their lowest level in 27 years because of a glut of hogs, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Herds are so big that farmers are shipping 2.2 million swine every week, stretching slaughterhouses to the limit, the Journal reported.

Some economists are predicting that up to one-fifth of the nation's hog farmers will be out of business by next summer, the Journal said.

"All I'm trying to do is keep alive as a family farmer. Most of it, people just don't understand," said Donley.

Beverley Layman, Donley's nearest neighbor, said it is hard for him to oppose the plant because he and Donley are friends.

But Layman said he does not want the hog operation to be enlarged. His house is near a hog waste lagoon, which he said can produce a "terrific" odor.

"When it rains and that pond fills up, it's just very terrible. It's not just the enlargement. When you get 1,000 pigs or more in this community, it just bodes ill," said Layman.

Teresa A. McBee, a Riverside Acres homeowner, said people who are opposed to the plant are not newcomers to the community who have taken a dislike to farming. She said she, like many others, is a longtime resident, and said she has enjoyed raising her children in a farming community.

"But this does not meet the definition of farming. If we're just going to allow the zoning to be negated, then the zoning we voted for is worthless," said McBee.

The Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to decide on Dec. 17 whether to approve Donley's variance request.

Donley said he has 1,200 hogs and might increase the size of the herd to 1,600.

Hogs will be shipped about twice a week to a slaughterhouse, such as Horst's Meats near Maugansville, then returned to Donley's for processing.

Pigs will not be slaughtered at the facility, said Donley.

A septic system, equipped with a grease pit to catch fat, will collect all water used in processing, said Donley.

Byproducts such as bones and ears will be kept refrigerated in large tubs until they are picked up by a disposal service, said Donley.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture will inspect the plant up to three times a week to ensure that waste collection systems are operating correctly, Donley said.

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