Concerned about their health, property values, the health of their community and quality of life, several concerned Macon County property and business owners met last week to discuss ways and means of finding out more about Cobb Vantress’ proposed poultry operations in Macon County. The third time they’d come together, some in the group knew each other; some where new; all were bearing information that fueled their questions and concerns.
The concerns didn’t come from out of the blue, but from widely publicized research and some personal experience.
The first and most obvious concern of the group is at least one on-going lawsuit that Cobb, owned by Tyson Foods, is involved in, filed in 2005 by the Attorney General of Oklahoma Drew Edmonson against 14 poultry operations for water and soil pollution.
According to allegations in the lawsuit, Cobb and other poultry operations are responsible for “run off from the improper dumping and storage of poultry waste that has contaminated Oklahoma’s rivers and streams particularly in the Illinois River watershed where phosphorus from the poultry waste is estimated to be equivalent to the waste generated by 10.7 million people.” The suit alleges violations of Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, federal and state nuisance laws, and state environment and administrative laws.
Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment Miles Tolbert testified that the state needed to have “relief now to protect public health this summer” and beyond. Tolbert told the court that about 140,000 people use the Illinois River each year for recreation, making the application of poultry waste to the watershed a very serious problem.
Dr. Berry Winn testified that about 15 years ago, patients in the Tahlequah area who were wounded at the river seemed to develop infections, leading to such injuries being treated like those sustained in barnyard accidents. Likewise, a high incidence of ear infections occur in children who swim in the river.
In a like lawsuit, Sierra Club v. Tyson Foods, a landmark decision was reached that held Tyson Chicken – not the poultry growers – responsible for reporting toxic levels of ammonia emissions from their operations. The Kentucky Court found Tyson to be the “operator” and “person in charge” and thus responsible for reporting emissions. That lawsuit ended with Tyson agreeing to invest half a million dollars to study and report emissions from its poultry operations.
Water concerns also ran high among members of the group, many of whom were farmers and rural landowners whose sole water sources are springs and wells.
According to Cobb’s contract, each poultry house will require 21,600 gallons per day, with a secondary water source of the same qualifications maintained for emergencies. After last summer’s drought, when water rationing prohibited the washing of dogs or cars or the watering of plants, and when many wells ran low or dry, the question was “Where will the water come from? At what expense?”
Property values were a major concern, particularly for those living next to one or more of Macon County’s 24 existing poultry houses. Those owners cited the invasion of biting flies, window-closing stench, and night-running trucks after the completion of poultry houses near their properties. Once clear creeks on their properties, they said, had become green with slime and not suitable for wading by their children and grandchildren.
According to The Appraisal Journal, the property value of land that is next to a Confined Animal Factory Operation (CAFO), which Cobb’s poultry houses qualify as, drops measurably; whether by stigma or actual fact of nuisance. The Journal further states that the CAFO is typically not considered to be economically “curable” under generally accepted appraisal theory and practice.
From an economic perspective, the proximity of CAFOs hinder the rights enjoyed by a owner, which fall into three categories: 1) Right of use and enjoyment 2) Right of exclusion 3) Right of transfer. It was noted that in the U.S. property itself is not “owned,” but rather the rights of the property are owned.
Briefly, the right of use and enjoyment is generally interpreted to mean that the owner may determine how property will be used, or if it is to be used at all. The right of use is traditionally limited by both public restrictions and private restrictions. Private restrictions (i.e., scenic, road, water easements) are usually voluntary and are always in trade for some economic compensation. An impairment often places a restriction no the right of use without some economic compensation; such as the odor of flies from a nearby CAFO.
The right of exclusion provides that those who have no claim on property should not gain economic benefit from enjoyment of the property. Trespassing, for instance, may result in a possible criminal penalty, as well as civil damages. Physical impairment, such as the odor or flies, is in effect a trespass on property rights, violating the right of exclusion and threatening both current and future benefits without compensation.
An impairment, too, may restrict the right of transfer, or the property owner’s ability to swap one resource for another.
Appraisers are required by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice to consider the impacts of CAFOs and the negative impacts of such contamination.
A University of Missouri study cited in the Journal found that an average vacant parcel of land located within 3 miles of a CAFO experienced a value loss of about 6.6%. However, if that parcel was located within one-tenth of a mile from the CAFO and had a residence on it, then the loss in value was estimated at about 88.3%. A 309 acre farm in Washington, about a quarter of a mile from a CAFO, experienced a loss of over 50% due to the impact of dust, flies, fly fecal matter, and odor.
The conclusion of appraisers is that the diminished marketability, loss of use and enjoyment, and loss of exclusivity can result in a diminishment ranging from 50% to nearly 90% of otherwise unimpaired value.
The conclusion of the meeting of Macon County property and business owners was that more information, and the dispersal of such, was needed about Cobb’s proposed operation, and the possible restriction of such operations by the county.
Far from being helpless to impose such restrictions, Tennessee county regulatory powers were passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2002 to authorize counties without zoning to exercise the certain regulatory powers granted to municipalities.
The powers are described in the law as the ability to define, prohibit, abate, suppress, prevent and regulate all acts, practices, conduct, businesses, occupations, callings, trades, uses of property and all other things whatsoever detrimental, or liable to be detrimental, to the health, morals, comfort, safety, convenience or welfare of the inhabitants of the municipality, and exercise general police powers; and prescribe limits within which business occupations and practices liable to be nuisances or detrimental to the health, morals, security or general welfare of the people may lawfully be established, conducted or maintained.
A private act was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2003, and allows for the regulations for health and sanitation upon properties within Macon County, including but not limited to storage, health and sanitation nuisances, storage of unused, discarded or abandoned materials or any substance or material deemed to be unhealthy, unsightly, unwholesome, or offensive to adjoining property owners.
A temporary moratorium on Cobb operations in the county has been suggested by those who attended the meeting, which is operating under the Sierra Club umbrella at this time, but seeks an office space in town. Also suggested was the possibility that our commissioners already have the answers to these questions.
“I don’t know enough about the poultry industry, myself,” said County Mayor Shelvy Linville last week, “but I’m going to remain open-minded about this, and will review information about it.
“If it’s not going to be good for the county, I don’t want it here, and I know the commissioners feel the same way,” he said. “If they didn’t care about the good of the county, they wouldn’t be there,” he concluded.
For more information on where to obtain more information and links about Confined Animal Factory Operations, and on Cobb Vantress in particular, call Thomas Haggard at 666-7167.