A Citizen's View
To the Editor
Some verbal attacks shouldn't be dignified with a response, others demand it. When a group of concerned tax payers approach a group of public servants, the expected response should be, "what can I do to help?" not "I don't care what you think!" and "what makes you think it's any of your business!" even if the issue at hand, or I should say, especially if the issue at hand is indeed, personal. Especially when you have just learned the serene community you love may soon be quite the opposite. These attacks spawned from a member of the Bradley County Planning Commission whose role is to uphold the County Zoning Resolution's purpose to "promote desirable living conditions" and "protect(ing) property against blight and depreciation". One would think he would care very much about what we think.
As some of you may be aware, a group of residents in my community approached the Planning Commission to express our concerns regarding a proposed CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation), in this case a chicken factory, in the middle of our surrounding residences and even worse, behind a historical church and in the middle of at least four springs. Our concerns are valid, not just for us, but for our entire county.
We asked Mr. Griffith what caused such hostility regarding our concerns since we all knew, "he doth protest too much". "I've been in the chicken business for 46 years!" was his response. What a shock! I'm glad he is setting his "personal view" aside for the benefit of the whole county.
Well Mr. Griffith, in public response to your very public and angry question, "What makes you think it's any of your business what they do on their property!" I feel strongly obliged to answer.
If someone is raising chickens on their property and the odor and flies and property diminishment remains within the confines of their own realty, I as a landowner, have no rights and quite frankly, no problem. Unfortunately, anyone who lives near a chicken house knows that is not necessarily the case. When it infringes on my property, it becomes my business, especially when I was there first. I wouldn't think of moving next to a chicken house and then complaining about the flies but if a chicken house moves next to me in a residential area, behind a church of all things, no one should be surprised by the reaction.
There are some basic rights regarding land ownership. First is the right of use and enjoyment of your property. Impairment from a CAFO includes odor and flies commonly associated with such an operation and places a restriction on the right to use and enjoy your property without compensation. Such a restriction may even destroy the Right of Transfer - the right to sell your home. With the exception of one friend from Arkansas who thinks the smell of chicken waste rekindles childhood memories, I don't know a single person that would choose to live next to a chicken factory much less pay me market value for my house next to one. Mr. Griffith's comments deny a landowner these basic rights but fortunately for my community, the state of Tennessee does not.
It is unfortunate that some members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and most newspapers covering our story have offered the chicken factory owners a false sense of confidence that they can just waltz into our community, unannounced, and do whatever they want in the name of "farming" even if it happens to ruin our quality of life. I guess we are just supposed to wrap our children up in nets, pray they don't fall in the creek and stuff cotton up their noses and all is well, eh? According to the Cleveland Daily Banner, our County Attorney responded to our intentions of filing a nuisance suit by stating "the law would preclude such action". This is true, but only if the feedlots were there first. This chicken factory hasn't been built and some of our neighbors have been on their property for over 30 years.
Many states have enacted laws under the cover of protecting farmers but do everything in opposition to them, i.e. protecting the interests of large agribusinesses due to their largely paid lobbyists. Farm Aid, an organization devoted to the family farm, who Mel Griffith called, "radicals", state that for every new CAFO, ten family farms go out of business. With 80% less farms today in a rapidly growing industry with increased production, we have to believe it is true. I am a huge proponent of family farms as our family owns a small farm in Bradley County and this was also brought to the attention of the Planning and Zoning Commission in our plea for help since several of us own farms. "Ah! You're just piddling!" said Mr. Griffith as he cut my father-in-law regarding the farm of which he is so proud. Mr. Griffith keeps insisting we are trying to put "farmers out of business" but I know, even if he doesn't, it's clearly the other way around.
The real problem here is not just the fact that should a chicken factory be erected next your house or farm, statistics have shown a significant loss in property values averaging 30-50%, besides diminishing your most precious investment forcing you to be a prisoner in what once was home sweet home with no chance for parole, this also results in a loss in taxes that effects the entire community. Economic losses can be recouped but unfortunately, other losses cannot.
There are numerous statistics from governmental, university and private studies that show contamination of groundwater from CAFOs. Why is this so important in Bradley County, though? Our entire county is part of the "Valley and Ridge Aquifer" which is considered Karst terrain. This is where CAFOs and the environment really don't mix. Our topography is full of springs, sinkholes, caves, etc. that make our ground water even more easily contaminated. There is water everywhere in my community, springs galore. You could drill a well with your John Deere tractor, no kidding. One neighbor can see water five feet from her well cap and her property is directly across the street from the proposed CAFO in our area. There is no doubt why we are concerned considering there are many condemned wells in Bradley County near chicken factories. Interesting, isn't it.
Our government appears to be very protective of our natural resources and our citizens. In just my little community, TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation) has denied our neighbor a permit to build a pond because of wetlands. The Health Department denied my neighbor a septic tank permit for a 4 bedroom house on a 2 acre lot. Before we were allowed to plea our case to the Planning Commission, they were discussing concern over whether or not a dog kennel would be considered a nuisance to a residential area but over 1 million pounds of chicken manure piled up next to a spring is okay? The American Public Health Association, the oldest and largest group devoted to public health, has urged federal, state and local lawmakers to issue a moratorium on all new and expanding CAFOs. But who cares what they think? After all, they are only interested in the health of our children.
Of course, if our protected Waterville wellhead is located at a golf course, and you know they don't use chemicals there, why should this bother anyone? A word to the wise, think before you drink and get your wells tested because the only person looking out for you is you. Oh, one last thing. Don't forget to vote for people who do "care what you think".