ANTES FORT - Is it legal?
That's essentially what more than 50 people wanted to know about the practice of spreading animal waste from Nicholas Meat Packing onto a Jersey Shore area farm, which has been going on since 2011.
The long and short of it is, with the current regulations, yes. But state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, hopes to change the regulations.
An audience of more than 50 people listened and participated in an informational meeting held Thursday evening by state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, and the DEP about animal waste spread on an Antes Fort area farm.
Everett, in conjunction with Department of Environmental Protection representatives, organized the Thursday evening meeting at Crossroads Community Church to clarify the laws and regulations associated with the practice.
Brett Bowes, of 305 Nippenose Road, spreads liquefied animal waste from Nicholas Meat Packing on farmland operated by William R. Camerer. Bowes is allowed to spread up to 21 million gallons of animal waste according to a nutrient management plan approved by DEP.
One of the issues, Everett emphasized, is that because the waste is classified as food processing waste, it is not subject to the same regulations as other products spread on farm fields.
Nicholas Meat Packing is required to create and follow a nutrient management plan, and follow best management practices, and DEP enforces it.
However, the company can adjust their nutrient management plan as they go along, as it did earlier this year when the DEP cited the company for two violations regarding the plan. The company revised its plan and was allowed to spread the waste on a larger area, said DEP Regional Director Marcus Kohl.
One resident compared that policy to speeding on a highway, and then the police officer adjusting the speed limit to accommodate that driver instead of issuing a ticket.
The DEP cited the company at least three times since 2011. Kohl said there isn't a magic number of violations that will stop the practice, but the DEP does hold the power to do so depending on circumstances.
Everett advocates nutrient management plans be reviewed and approved in advance; currently, it's only required the plan be created and the company keep it on file.
Everett said his first step will be to ask the DEP to change their regulations to require the waste be treated the same as other products applied to farm fields. If that fails, he may tackle the issue legislatively.
Another issue is the animal waste sample that was submitted to DEP. After questioned by an attendee, Kohl responded that Nicholas Meat Packing took the sample, which showed it consisted of 1 percent blood, 1 percent manure and 98 percent water.
Kohl promised the DEP would take an independent sample.
"I assure you, we will take our own sample," Kohl said.
Kohl said his staff have inspected the site in question 25 times, and each incoming complaint will be looked into.
Although the crowd complained profusely of severe odor issues associated with the practice, Kohl said the DEP can't take action unless a staff member personally observes the issue.
"We weren't able to track any odors, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. But we (DEP) need to observe the violation. ... I assure you, we will pursue this," Kohl said.
One resident expressed frustration with the alleged stench. "This whole village stinks. One farmer made a whole valley into a stinkhole," he said.
The residents also have complained of well contamination. The DEP tested only one well because Kohl said they couldn't conclusively link the well's contamination to that animal waste because there hadn't been prior testing to establish baseline water quality.