By Allison Scarbrough. Editor.
CLAYBANKS TOWNSHIP — A proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) that will house 4,000 swine has some residents in southern Oceana County and northern Muskegon County speaking out against it due to environmental concerns, but the facility owner says the operation will not harm the environment.
The proposed CAFO would be located off Flower Road near 56th Avenue in southern Oceana County in a zoned agricultural area. The owner, David Marsh, currently operates a dairy farm on the property. His son, Jacob Marsh, would operate the swine facility.
A meeting earlier this month drew much criticism from local residents, and David Marsh said he is shocked by the backlash.
“This is not a fight against farmers,” said resident Ele Goudreau. “This is a fight for our fresh water, air and soil, along with a fight for small farmers and sustainable agriculture.”
The Marshes, who have gone through a long process of acquiring the proper permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), have been farming all their lives, Marsh said.
“We are not doing anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “We’ve met all the specifications and done all the ground testing. It’s a well thought-out process. The manure pit was designed by engineers.”
The enclosed concrete manure pit will be situated below the 30,000-square-foot swine storage facility.
Trucks would then use vacuum tubes to remove the manure and load it into tanks, so the manure can be sold to farmers for fertilizer, said DEQ Environmental Analyst Megan McMahon. The proposed storage facility has the capability to house manure for one year, she said.
The underground construction of the manure pit would “combat the smell,” McMahon said. The pigs would not be slaughtered at the site, she said. “They will be fed until they go to the market.”
The Marshes are planning to break ground on the facility next spring.
Because the property is in close proximity to Flower Creek and in the Flower Creek watershed, some local residents are concerned the manure could create devastating environmental impacts. Flower Creek, which has e-Coli issues, flows into Lake Michigan.
An online petition to stop the CAFO is circulating on social media.
Goudreau said “fresh water contamination into Lake Michigan” is a big concern. “We live on Lake Michigan, 5 1/2 miles south of the proposed CAFO.”
“Elevated e-Coli levels in swimming water in Lake Michigan” is a big issue.
She worries about “aquifer contamination over a medium/long period of time,” as well as “air pollution and particulate issues from spreading of waste onto fields.”
The area where the facility is proposed has a long history of farming operations, Marsh said. “It’s been well over 100 years,” he said. “As farmers, we’ve been doing this our whole life.”
“The manure is a valuable asset — we use it,” Marsh said. “We have to take care of the ground. It’s the cycle of life. If we don’t take care of the ground, it won’t take care of us.”
Marsh said that he and his family enjoy Lake Michigan and would never want to harm it either. “We love the lake, too.”
By adding the swine operation to his 300-acre farm, he and his son are “trying to diversify” their operation.
Marsh added that chemical fertilizers are “toxic” compared to pig manure, which is a “natural resource.”
The Marsh Swine Farm is partnered with Valley View Pork in Walkerville, and Marsh said he encourages opponents to tour the facility in Walkerville to see how clean it is.
The DEQ wants to hear the public’s comments about the proposed facility, and a public meeting and hearing is tentatively set for the evening of Jan. 10 at Montague High School, McMahon said.
The DEQ is also receiving comments through Dec. 15 at https://miwaters.deq.state.mi.us
Comments may also be submitted by email at [email protected]
or via US mail: Megan McMahon, Permits Section, WRD, DEQ, PO Box 30458, Lansing, MI 48909-7958.
The comment period will be re-opened prior to the January meeting, McMahon said.
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