Graves County could face second lawsuit in hog farm dispute
By Tom Berry
The Graves County Fiscal Court could face a second lawsuit over new hog farm regulations that a Boaz area family wanting to construct a facility on Hopewell Road claims are too restrictive.
John Walters, of Walters, Meadows, Richardson PLLC of Lexington and legal counsel for Jeff and Jarryd Holshouser of Graves County, said the family is asking county commissioners Richie Galloway, Tyler Goodman and Todd Hayden to reverse a decision made in October. It prevents the Holshousers from getting started until their application can be approved by state environmental officials.
The Holshousers want to build hog barns and waste disposal facilities for about 4,800 hogs on family property in north Graves County. About 600 acres would be used for disposal of hog waste, according to paperwork filed by the Holshousers as required by county ordinance and state law. Hog waste is injected into the ground as part of the disposal process.
"We are disappointed in the Graves County Fiscal Court's decision to deny a pork production permit to the Holshouser family, despite the permit meeting all local and state guidelines at the time it was filed," Walters said. "Unfortunately, and despite the good faith efforts of these local farmers and the benefits their endeavors will bring to the community, some continue to try and thwart progress on these new farms. This leaves the Holshousers with no alternative but to seek a review of the fiscal court's denial through the judicial system. They regret that this is their only avenue to grow their family farm by producing pork in Graves County."
Walters claims that expanding pork production in Graves County will "provide an economic boost to local farmers and help ensure the next generation of farmers remain in Graves County."
"Since its adoption by the Graves County Fiscal Court, progress has begun on several new pork producing farms, all of which fully comply with all local and state regulations," Walters added. "It is our sincere hope that the Graves County Fiscal Court will work with local farmers to allow this important agricultural and economic development to move forward per the new ordinance."
Jamie Sears, a spokesman for Walters, Meadows, Richardson PLLC, said Thursday that litigation had not yet been filed.
"We did file a complaint last week challenging the decision of the Graves County Fiscal Court to deny the Holshousers' Graves County Hog Permit application and also challenging the process the fiscal court used to arrive at that decision," he said.
According to a copy of the complaint provided by Sears, the plaintiffs ask Graves Circuit Court Tim Stark that the fiscal court's decision to deny the permit be stricken and the permit approved, that the Holshousers be granted injunctive relief, and be awarded all damages including attorneys' fees and costs and any damages that may be appropriate as well as a trial by jury should the dispute come to that.
In October, Hayden, Galloway and Goodman voted to deny a permit request, filed Sept. 4, during a public hearing attended by more than 100 Boaz area residents protesting the construction.
The group opposed the construction of hog barns and a waste disposal facility near their homes, citing stench, hog waste-contaminated water, loss of property values, loss of domestic comfort and quality of life issues for themselves and their families.
Judge-Executive Jesse Perry declined to comment Monday on Walters' statement, citing the possibility of legal action.
Earlier this year, the county fought litigation by Tosh Farms LLC of Henry, Tennessee, a business through which some Graves County farmers are receiving assistance in getting started.
Tosh Farms had also contended that the county ordinance goes too far beyond state guidelines and was damaging the business as well as local farmers who wanted to expand into hog farming.
The lawsuit ended with an agreement to push back the county's required 2,000-foot separation between an adjacent property and a hog farming operation to 1,750 feet, along with stipulations requiring insurance coverage to deal with the cost of possible environmental contamination.
During the October meeting, Perry said the county has done all it could do to aid residents who do not want hog farms near their homes. He recommended that opponents contact Second District Rep. Richard Health, R-Mayfield, and First District Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, concerning any possible change in state law.
However, Heath said Monday that he has not received any requests for change.
"I have been contacted by people that don't like the hog farms but there hasn't been anything said about changing state law," Heath said.
Humphries reported about the same feedback.
"As far as I know there has been only one person that has called and requested information regarding statewide (hog farm) regulations," he said Tuesday.
Humphries said constituent services then contacted the caller concerning state guidelines, but there was no request from the caller for a change.
According to the county's new ordinance adopted this year, as long as the applicant's request does not violate the footage between the boundaries of the hog operation and a neighboring home the request goes to the state for approval. Because of the possibility of a "structure" lying within 1,750 feet of where the Holshousers plan to build, the court denied the family's request until the state could determine whether or not the "structure" violates the rules.