FREDERICK - Two years after a Rocky Ridge farmer set up a feed lot for 4,000 hogs without local or state scrutiny, the Frederick County commissioners adopted yesterday the first local hog farm regulations in Maryland.
Commissioners and some county residents called the measure aimed at large-scale operations an effort to protect public health and safety. But many farmers in this fast-growing county say they fear it is the first step toward regulating them out of business. "If you can single out hog farms, what's next?" asked Charles C. Smith, president of the Frederick County farm bureau. "Dairy cattle? Beef cattle?"
Commissioners said they have no intention of broadening the regulations to other animals.
"We're doing everything we can to promote farming in Frederick County," said David P. Gray, president of the Board of County Commissioners. "But the average farmer [running such a large scale operation] is not a farmer; he's a full-time baby sitter. This is a terrible use of farmland."
The quick, 4-1 vote at a commission work session was anticlimactic after boisterous public hearings on the measure in packed halls over the past six months. Even Terre R. Rhoderick, the lone dissenting vote, said he wasn't so much opposed to regulating large-scale hog farms as he was concerned about a requirement for an odor control plan.
"You can measure the particles in what comes out of a smokestack and you can measure water quality, but how do you measure odors?" he said.
It was the odor from Rodney Harbaugh's hog barns on his 66-acre farm north of Frederick, combined with growing concerns over large-lot feeding operations elsewhere in Maryland and reports of environmental disasters in North Carolina, that led to the measure adopted yesterday.
"It would get into the house, permeate the clothes and the furniture. People with breathing problems would have to stand in the shower," recalled Karen Kuhn, who lives less than a mile from Harbaugh's hog barns.
Harbaugh, who was raised on the farm he operates, added two hog barns in July 1998 and began feeding 4,000 hogs. In May last year, the Maryland Department of the Environment ordered him to cut the herd to fewer than 2,400 because he failed to obtain a wastewater permit, which is required for concentrated feeding operations. He continues to wrangle with MDE, which has for the first time required an odor management plan before granting the permit.
Even if MDE grants the permit, Harbaugh could not expand without meeting the new county regulations, which require feeding operations with more than 2,500 hogs to be at least 550 feet from all property lines and waste pits to be at least a half-mile from residences. The regulations also ban the use of hog waste as fertilizer within 500 feet of the nearest residence and 300 feet of a drinking water well.
Daniel C. Poole, who raises 200 to 250 hogs a year as a sideline to his seed business on 300 acres near Jefferson, about 12 miles south of Frederick, says the regulations are unnecessary. "We got state regulations on manure and water quality, and Frederick County didn't apply them in this case."
Commissioner Jan H. Gardner conceded that some of the regulations "overlap," but the county's version requires a pubic hearing. "One of the complaints from Mr. Harbaugh's neighbors is that they didn't know it was coming."