Turkey farms cause flap in nearby communities

In 1994, turkey producers were looking to expand in Lancaster County. A large number of residents fearing odors and declining property values turned out at council meetings to oppose 32 applications for turkey farms. A typical turkey farm generates thousands of pounds of waste.

The ensuing controversy led the county to pass an ordinance limiting the location of turkey farms to parcels of land of at least 75 acres, located 100 feet from a water supply and 1,320 feet from residences. Lancaster County Administrator Chappel Hurst introduced the ordinance when he learned that DHEC had never turned down an application for a turkey farm, sometimes ignoring its own guidelines in siting turkey farms.

Hurst explained that established turkey farmers were not a problem because they had farmed for years and had large enough tracts of land to dispose of the manure. "The problems developed because people bought 20 acres of land and wanted to start a poultry operation," he said. "We had one case where someone wanted to put a farm on seven acres of land. You can't let one type of industry destroy everything around it."

Numerous studies have documented the harmful effects of poultry waste to watersheds. Arkansas and Virginia waterways both suffered large fish kills in recent years from algae blooms caused by nitrification from the poultry industry.

Passage of the county ordinance helped spawn the poultry industry's Right to Farm Bill, originally intended to limit a county's authority over the location of large livestock operations. The bill was heavily amended by Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) and, in its current form, regulates only hog farms. Heavy lobbying by the Farm Bureau and Poultry Federation left the poultry industry unaffected by the bill.

In March 1995, one month after Lancaster passed its ordinance, a Circle S ad appeared in the Chester News and Observer seeking turkey growers. As in Lancaster, citizens voiced concerns over the turkey barns locating close to residences.

Council member Tom Funderburk introduced an ordinance similar to Chester County's, but this time the tables were turned. The poultry industry brought in supporters, including experts from Clemson University, and soundly defeated the ordinance.

Chester County resident Bruce Collins built his turkey barn in violation of DHEC's guidelines. He is being fought in court by the Edgemore Community Action Association.

Environmental lawyer Bob Guild is representing the group. He points out the heavy environmental toll states like Arkansas have sustained at the hands of the poultry industry.

"According to DHEC's own files," he said, "seven of nine Chester Country watersheds have already been impacted by agricultural runoff. DHEC says they must find the source of this pollution in order to deal with it, but at the same time they are issuing permits willy-nilly to apply the waste to farm land."

© Copyright by POINT, 1996
Last modified 5/9/96