The Frederick County commissioners gave preliminary approval yesterday to the first local hog farm regulations in Maryland and ordered a public hearing on them.
The proposal, which would establish strict requirements keeping large feedlot operations well away from residential areas, is likely to be approved by the end of July and take effect Sept. 25, the date a moratorium on new hog farms expires.
Environmentalists say runoff from hog farms has polluted waterways with waste and that factory farming methods have driven small family farms out of business.
Rodney G. Harbaugh, whose farm has been at the center of the controversy that led to the plan, said yesterday that he had not seen the proposal and could not comment.
Karen Kuhn, a neighbor of Harbaugh's who has led the opposition to the farm, said she was "very pleased with what they've come up with."
Kuhn, who has respiratory problems, has complained that the odor from Harbaugh's farm has made it impossible for her to enjoy her garden and forced her to increase the amount of medication she takes.
The proposal, based on recommendations from a task force of environmentalists, farmers and local residents, would require operations with 250 to 10,000 hogs to get annual permits. It would require that waste pits be at least a half mile from the nearest residence and that feeding operations be at least 500 feet from the nearest residence.
The regulations would apply only to swine operations, which government officials say should comply the county's right-to-farm ordinance and reassure farmers who fear government regulation.
"We have a few farmers with several thousand head of dairy cattle or chickens, and they might see this as the camel's nose under the tent," said county Commissioner Terre Rhoderick. "We're trying to assure the farm community that we're interested in preserving farms."
Harbaugh, who grew up on the 66-acre farm at Rocky Ridge in northern Frederick County, added two hog barns in July 1998 and began feeding 4,000 hogs. In May last year, the state ordered him to cut the herd to fewer than 2,400 because he had failed to obtain a wastewater permit, which is required for concentrated animal-feeding operations.
He has continued to wrangle with the Maryland Department of the Environment over the permit while keeping his herd down to about 2,400 hogs.
Complaints about odors from his farm led to the moratorium and yesterday's proposal.
The plan would prohibit large hog farms within 200 feet of a stream and a mile of a park, wildlife refuge or natural resources management area or wild area. It also would forbid farmers to spread sludge from a waste lagoon onto their crops within 300 feet of a well head. State officials say there are at least three hog-feeding operations in Maryland with 2,000 or more animals, two in Frederick County and one in Kent County.
Harbaugh's operation would not be affected by the proposed regulations, but he probably would not be able to expand.
The proposed regulations would permit existing operations to maintain their size, but farmers who wanted to expand would have to get new permits, said Tim Goodfellow of the county planning office.
Harbaugh's barn is less than a quarter mile from her house, said Kuhn, and the waste storage area is beneath the barns.
The Sierra Club has said that similar operations in North Carolina and other states have polluted waterways with their waste and driven small family farms out of business. The Maryland Farm Bureau has countered that hog feeding can be a lucrative expansion option for family farms.
Legislation that would have imposed a five-year moratorium on new hog farms in Maryland died in the General Assembly in March.