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Poultry crosses W.Va. roadblock

September 09, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Commissioners agreed Thursday to move forward with a proposal to allow poultry processing in the county despite concerns that poultry processing was never mentioned by county planning officials when they were devising new zoning regulations.

The commission made the decision after Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson briefed the commissioners on how the county treated a similar situation in a previous case.

That case, which went before a circuit judge, revolved around whether the county commission could change language in a proposal after a public hearing on the issue, Thompson said.

The court ruled that it could, according to Thompson.

Changing the county's zoning regulations to allow fish, meat and poultry processing has raised concerns among residents in recent weeks.

Some are worried about large commercial farming operations, or "factory farms" in the county.

The number of poultry farms has doubled in the state in the last five years, and there have been pollution problems along the Potomac River where farms are located, Janet Stone of Bolivar told the commissioners two weeks ago.

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County Planning Director Paul Raco has said he does not believe the new regulations would attract commercial farming to the county because the proposed laws do not allow slaughtering.

The commissioners tabled any further action on the proposal until next week.

Richard Latterell of Shepherdstown, who testified on the issue before the commissioners for the second time Thursday, said factory farms produce more manure than the land can "detoxify." Manure lagoons periodically leak and reach groundwater supplies, said Latterell.

Agriculture officials say allowing local farmers to do their own meat processing is critical to help them diversify.

County Extension Agent Craig Yohn told the commissioners Thursday that the number of county farms has dropped from 57 to 17 since 1982. Most of the people in farming are working on farms that their families established generations ago, Yohn said.

New farmers are having difficulty getting into the business because of the huge cost of starting an operation, said Yohn.

"Is farming dead in Jefferson County? For anyone who wants to get into farming, yes it is," Yohn said. "You can't make a living, period."

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