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Pa. residents rallying against corporate farm

January 20, 2001

Pa. residents rallying against corporate farm



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


NEEDMORE, Pa. - A legal battle over a proposed concentrated hog-feeding operation at an abandoned 260-acre farm could pit a small Fulton County township against a major corporation and establish laws affecting all of Pennsylvania.

More than 130 area residents heard lawyers representing the Environmental Legal Defense Fund based in Shippensburg, Pa., tell them how to conduct a legal fight against corporate farm owners like Farmer Boy Ag Systems based in eastern Pennsylvania. The company wants to convert the former Gary Mellott farm on Mountain Road into a corporate farm.

Two of Mellott's daughters have sold their total two-thirds interest in the property to Farmer Boy representatives. The remaining third is in a trust being held for a third daughter, a minor, said Peter Milius, who owns property near the farm.

Milius said he wants to buy the remaining third to prevent the farm from becoming a corporate farm operation. Milius said the decision rests with an orphan's court judge who will rule on the minor's behalf.

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Meanwhile, the Belfast Township Supervisors last summer adopted three ordinances aimed at controlling future corporate farms. One such operation, Timber Ridge Road Farm, is operating in the township, said Township Supervisor Rick Harr.

"It's our duty to protect the citizens of this township," said Township Supervisor William Shives.

Shives said he was encouraged by the large turnout of residents at Saturday's meeting who showed support for the board's actions in their behalf.

Shives said Timber Ridge's 9,000-hog operation runs its manure into two 1.5- million-gallon storage lagoons. When full, the manure is hauled to other farms where it is spread on fields as fertilizer.

He said the fear is that the lagoons might overflow into Little Tonoloway Creek, which is downhill from the lagoons. The creek eventually spills into the Potomac River.

"If the lagoons leak, the manure will end up in the Potomac. No one monitors them," he said.

Neighbors have also expressed concerns about odors and effects on property values.

In essence, the three Belfast Township ordinances, which have been copied in two other Fulton County townships - Wells and Thompson - as well as townships in nearby Franklin County, are aimed at regulating and even preventing nonfamily corporate farms.

The first ordinance deals with water usage and seeks to limit the amount to 3,000 gallons per day, Shives said. The second limits each farm to three violations of Department of Environmental Protection or Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The operation has to shut down on conviction of a third violation.

The supervisors rewrote the third ordinance, which deals with renewable contracts, to allow Timber Ridge to be grandfathered in, Harr said.

Harr said Saturday that the supervisors expect Timber Ridge to challenge all three ordinances when the time comes to enforce them.

Timber Ridge officials could not be reached comment Saturday.

The meeting's featured speaker was David Cobb, an attorney with the Houston, Texas, office of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

Cobb said it's difficult for small communities to fight corporate giants with unlimited funds and the weight of law behind them.

"It's an uphill battle in its early stages," he said. "We're in a citizens' uprising against corporate masters who are treating us like slaves. They're replacing democracy."

Attorney Tom Linzey, president of the Defense Fund's Shippensburg, Pa., office, coordinated Saturday's meeting. He said the fund will help Belfast and other townships uphold their ordinances if they are challenged in court.

There are 16 corporate farms in Franklin County, including 13 with absentee owners, Linzey said. Five are in Fannett Township, Linzey said.

He said State Del. Jeff Coy, D-Shippensburg, is calling for legislative hearings on corporate factory farms.

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