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Michigan Tax Tribunal Recognizes Hog Factory Stench

State court recognizes factory farm abuse

December 7, 1999 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Rural residents of Mecosta County have argued for two years that massive hog operations, which moved to the Barryton area in 1997, are infringing on their right to enjoy their private property. Sickening odors from a 6-million gallon pit of hog manure and urine, for example, invade the home of Barryton's Mitch and Irene Gibbons three to four times a week.

The Michigan Tax Tribunal recently agreed with the Gibbons and their neighbors. On Nov. 18, 1999, it ordered local tax officials to reduce the true cash, assessed, and taxable values of at least five rural Barryton homes by 35 percent. (The Tribunal is part of the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services.)

Among the items that convinced Tribunal members of a problem with livestock factory stench in Mecosta County was this statement from an appraiser about a property's slim sale chances: "Across the road from subject is a large pig farm operation, and the smell is terrible."

A "livestock factory" is an operation that confines a large number of animals — and their wastes — in a small area. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls the larger factories (starting at 750 cows, 2,500 hogs) Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The federal Clean Water Act requires all such CAFOs to have discharge permits to guard against the manure spill dangers inherent to operations with large, concentrated waste volumes. The state of Michigan, however, refuses to provide the pollution prevention and public health protection that comes with discharge permits. Instead, it relies on voluntary, unenforceable guidelines in the Right to Farm Act to encourage proper siting, construction, and management of animal waste handling facilities.

Michigan public interest and environmental groups are working with hundreds of rural residents across Michigan for property rights fairness and environmental justice.

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