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County issues 60-day moratorium on construction of chicken houses

A 60-day moratorium on the construction of chicken houses in Grady County is now in effect following action taken by the Grady County Board of Commissioners Thursday.
The officials ordered the moratorium to give themselves time to evaluate possible revisions to the county’s specific land use regulations governing chicken houses in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The move followed a unanimous vote of the commissioners earlier in the meeting to grant a variance to Nghe Van Phan who constructed eight new chicken houses allegedly in violation of the county’s required setback requirements, from eight inches inside the setback up to eight feet inside the setback.
The county ordinance requires chicken houses to be set back 250 feet from the property line and 1,500 feet from a neighboring residence.
A group of north Grady County residents who live next to Phan’s chicken house operation on County Line Road were back before the commission last week opposing the granting of the variance.
Durrel Cox, a County Line Road resident, and Gloria Smith, a Stagecoach Road resident, both spoke against the variance.
Smith encouraged the county to employ a qualified poultry inspector to deal with health issues created by the growing chicken house industry in the county.
Cox said that raising chicken on such a massive scale creates environmental issues that need to be addressed.
Also present last week was retired Tall Timbers executive Lane Green and Tall Timbers Planning Coordinator Neil Fleckenstein.
As the number of chicken house operations expands in Grady County, Green said that the county must look for ways to protect wells, lakes, rivers and streams. “We need common sense regulations that have setbacks from wells and flood plains so we can keep the good water we’ve got,” Green said.
Fleckenstein said he was not here to oppose the variance, but to encourage the commissioners to consider the environmental impacts of more and more chicken houses coming to the county.
According to Fleckenstein, there are between 700 and 800 chicken houses in Colquitt County and there is no more room for more so developers are looking to other counties like Grady.
Tall Timbers has been in consultation with Dr. Stan Savage, a University of Georgia poultry scientist. According to Dr. Savage, each chicken house can produce 250,000 to 300,000 pounds of manure a year or 2.4 million pounds from eight houses annually.
Fleckenstein said that the improper storage and inadequate management of the manure can potentially contaminate drinking water.
In an effort to assist in the protection of the county’s water resources, Fleckenstein submitted some recommendations for the county commission to consider.
Included in the Tall Timbers recommendations were a setback for chicken houses and dry manure stack houses 250 feet from 100-year flood zones; a 100 feet setback for chicken houses and dry stack houses from wells; and require a dry manure stack house for dry-composting poultry manure generated on the site of commercial chicken houses.
Commissioners also said they want to address incinerators in the ordinance. Currently, incinerators are used on some Grady County farms to burn the dead birds and commissioners say setback requirements should also be established for them.
During the meeting last week, Commissioner LaFaye Copeland sought clarification regarding how Phan was issued a certificate of occupancy on Nov. 10, 2015 for the eight new chicken houses and then it was later determined the houses were built in violation of the code.
Jeanette Shurley of the county code enforcement department told commissioners the county’s code inspection officials are not required to verify the actual placement of the chicken houses on site. “We depend on the surveyor and the information that is brought to us. We go by what they bring us,” she said.
Allegedly, after the survey was completed and stakes were put in place they were moved by contractors working on Phan’s property and when they were replaced they were not put in the same spots which created the shift inside the setback.
“A lot more is going to come from this, but right now to move eight houses is totally impossible and impractical. We need to move on and get local legislation. That is the way to go. We need information from experts to amend our ordinances and have time to contact people more knowledgeable than we are on this matter,” Commissioner T.D. David said before offering a motion to approve the variance.
David’s motion was seconded by Commissioner Ray Prince and was passed unanimously 4-0. Commissioner Elwyn Childs was absent Thursday.
Following the vote on the variance, Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar expressed his desire for the ordinance to require an additional survey to verify the setbacks are met before a construction permit is issued.
“I would suggest we put together a committee and study all of this instead of piecemealing it,” Commissioner Prince said. “It’s obvious we’ve got some problems,” he added.
Commission Chairman Charles Norton insisted state law and best management practices be researched to insure the county is not duplicating regulations already in place.
Commission attorney Kevin S. Cauley suggested the county research the ordinances in place in Colquitt County and Hall County, both major chicken producing counties in the state.
‘This requires some thought and not just reaction. We are seeing an influx of houses and likely to see more if we don’t do something,” Cauley warned.
“We need to get it done before any more are built,” Commissioner Prince said and Cauley suggested issuing a moratorium.
Shurley reported that there are no permit applications in process or awaiting review currently.
Commissioner Copeland questioned if the chicken houses were coming here because of a lack of county zoning. Chairman Norton said the issue had nothing to do with zoning and noted that both Colquitt County and Mitchell County have zoning and there are many chicken houses in both of those counties. Norton said the houses had to be within a 50-mile radius of a processing plant.
After additional discussion, Commissioner David offered a motion to issue the moratorium and Commissioner Copeland offered a second. The motion passed unanimously.
Chairman Norton said once additional information was received he would schedule a work session to discuss the issue further.
In other business, the board:
Approved paying $1,700 for the rental of a van to transport members of the 4-H archery team who are to compete in the national archery match at the same time other 4-H members will be using the county van to travel to summer camp at Rock Eagle.
Ratified verbal approval to pay Yancey Brothers $2,927.25 for bulldozer repairs.
Ratified verbal approval to pay Joey Brock $6,000 to survey and stack out the right of way for State Park Road.

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