County extends moratorium on chicken houses

Grady County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to extend a moratorium on the construction of new chicken houses in the county for another 60 days.
A similar measure adopted in May was set to expire Tuesday, according to Grady County administrator Carlos Tobar, who recommended the commission extend the moratorium.
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.
Tobar said Tuesday that he has only recently been able to submit to county commission attorney Kevin S. Cauley the proposed changes to the ordinance discussed by commissioners at a prior workshop that Cauley was not invited to attend.
A group of north Grady County residents has been vocal about issues regarding the expansion of the chicken production business in the county.
Commissioners subsequently have received suggestions from officials with Tall Timbers Research Station and have reviewed ordinances of neighboring counties.
The current county ordinance requires chicken houses to be set back 250 feet from the property line and 1,500 feet from a neighboring residence.
Commissioners are considering adding a restriction that any chicken house must be 100 feet from a water well;  a setback requirement for incinerators; a setback from the flood plane;  a 30-foot vegetative buffer requirement around chicken houses; and a set of as-built plan requirement for new chicken houses.
Tobar told commissioners June 21 that he was in the process of summarizing what was discussed at the June 7 workshop.
At the June 21 meeting Commissioner Ray Prince requested Tobar investigate if a filtering system can be required on incinerators at local chicken houses to reduce the emitted odors.
According to Prince, the majority of complaints he has received involved the incinerators and the smell they put off.
Tobar did not update commissioners on his findings Tuesday. The administrator also did not update board members this week on Chairman Charles Norton’s request on June 21 to contact state agriculture inspectors to investigate the dumping of dead chickens in county dumpsters on Old Newton Road.
Gloria Smith, one of the most vocal of the local residents opposed to the expansion of chicken houses in the county, appeared before the county commission again this week.
Smith warned that the expansion of chicken houses in the county would devalue surrounding property, which would result in cuts to the tax digest and lower collections of ad valorem taxes by the county in the future.
According to her, reductions in values of up to 80 percent could be realized. In addition to the economic impact, she warned that the chicken houses are a threat to the local water supply and environment as well as a nuisance due to the noxious odors and the noises that are produced by the chicken house facilities.
Ms. Smith also questioned why the county code enforcement office recently issued certificates of occupancy for chicken houses that have been in operation since last October and how such action could be done while a moratorium was in place.
Commissioner Prince said that the moratorium prevented any new chicken houses from being permitted and constructed, nothing more.
Smith is soliciting community members to band together to work with the county on solving issues related to chicken houses in the county.
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Elwyn Childs went on the record in support of farmers having the opportunity to raise chickens here in order to make a living.
“A lot of people have no earthly idea what all is involved in producing our food. All they realize is they go to the store where they’ve got food displayed, ham, beef steak, eggs, chickens, broilers, vegetables and they pull out a free card and get it and carry it home and enjoy it. They have no earthly idea how it is made or what the farmer went through to get to the point they can enjoy life,” Childs said.
The veteran county commissioner said that some folks in the United States would put farmers out of business and starve to death by preventing farmers from making a living at farming.
“In the 1980s, Grady County was the number one hog producer in the state. Now, we’ve got one and he wants to get out now because he can’t make a living,” Childs said.
“If we are going to eat, someone has got to produce it and we’ve got a lot of big people eating a lot. They are close to putting everybody out of business because they don’t comply with their way of living,” he added.
Commissioner Prince, a local farmer, noted that farmers work to be good stewards of the land.
Chairman Norton also pointed out there is nowhere to sell cotton here, only one place to sell corn, peanuts and soybeans, and no hog or cattle buying point. “The family farms are gone and it’s the big farms that are holding it together in Grady County. It’s not just here, it’s all over this country,” Chairman Norton said.
“We’ve got to eat and we’re not all vegetarians. We can’t live off fresh air and sunshine,” Norton added.
Commissioner T.D. David said it was his hope the county can adopt minimal changes to the chicken house ordinance while not overregulating agriculture in the county.
Commissioners will schedule a public hearing on the revised ordinance before voting to make any changes. No date for that public hearing has been set as of Tuesday.
In other business Tuesday, the board:
Unanimously approved the reappointment of Lanola Dunlap to the Department of Family and Children Service’s board for another term.
Approved payment of invoices totaling $88,894.68 to Tired Creek consulting attorney Laura Benz for services rendered between Jan. 3, 2016 and June 21, 2016. Benz had agreed in January not to bill for her services until the county received authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill the 960-acre Tired Creek Lake.
Accepted the low bid of $14,400 from Cal-Mart Inc. for rip rap for the new Gainous Road bridge. The county road department will put the rip rap in place. According to Tobar, Local Maintenance Improvement Grant dollars and proceeds from a state grant will be used to fund the purchase.
Approved a subdivision plat for W.T. and B.L. Fountain.
Heard a report from Tobar that he was working with officials from Krebs Engineering to edit the Tired Creek Master Plan. County attorney Cauley warned against making changes that would require a permit modification from the Corps of Engineers. Commissioner David suggested Tobar share his revisions with the county attorney for his review. Later in the meeting, after Cauley had been excused, Tobar said all he was doing was replacing original language in the master plan that had been revised by Laura Benz and approved by the Corps. Commissioner LaFaye Copeland suggested Tobar get with Cauley on the revisions and Tobar stated, “No, we’ve got this.” “If it’s not done precisely like the Corps wants we’ll be in trouble,” Commissioner Prince warned.
Met with Grady County Lake Authority Executive Director Mike Binion, Animal Control Director Shawn Mobley and Building and Grounds Superintendent Brian Harrison to discuss their respective budgets including the code enforcement department budget.
Met behind closed doors to discuss a personnel issue and pending litigation.

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