A judge heard arguments for and against a proposed poultry farm in Progress that neighbors claim would bring environmental problems, while an attorney for the farmer said he’s met all of the requirements and is being hindered from making a living.
The residents, who gathered a large petition to keep the farm out, have been in a legal battle with farmer Jimmie Le of Biloxi for more than a year, and both sides presented their case in Pike County Chancery Court on Wednesday.
Plaintiff’s attorney Jeff Reynolds argued that there were four reasons for Chancery Court Judge Wayne Smith should reverse the decision: The location of the facility would break the 600-foot buffer distance required for factories, MDEQ failed to measure the requirements properly, a “compost shed” would be about 100 feet from the nearest residence instead of 300 feet as required and Le’s permit is inappropriate for the operation.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality requires a buffer of land between a facility like a chicken farm and the nearest residents, Reynolds said.
Neighbors Billy Ray and Pauline Simmons Magee, who were in the audience, were a focus of this rule, as their mobile home is less than 600 feet away.
“There is 100% certainty that this will contami-nate the Magee property,” Reynolds said, punctuating this with videos of rainwater forming streams from Le’s property into the Magees’ property along with creeks that cross the properties.
Reynolds also argued that the MDEQ did not take any measurements of the property accounting for the proposed “compost shed” an area on the property where chicken waste and dead carcasses can sit for days to decompose into fertilizer.
The shed would be within 100 feet of the Magees’ property, and Reynolds said environmental requirements say it should be at least 300 feet away.
“I think the court could take judicial notice of what rolls downhill,” Ott said, noting that Le’s property is uphill from the Magee’s mobile home.
Reynolds also argued that Le had a permit to be an animal feed operation, although the permit should be for a concentrated animal feeding operation since Le plans to raise close to a million chickens a year. Reynolds also said neither he nor his clients were allowed an evidential hearing before MDEQ granted the permit.
“We didn’t get a fair shot. ... That is all we want, not a kangaroo court,” Reynolds said.
Le’s attorney Scott Singley said Reynolds' arguments lack substance.
He said there is no regulation for the 300-foot buffer, just a 150-foot requirement for property lines and that the nearest property line cannot be within 600 feet of the farm. Furthermore, he said that the court should throw out the argument about the compost shed because it was not brought up during the investigatory hearing.
“Mr. Le has done everything the state and Sanderson Farms has asked him to do,” Singley said, adding that “his life is on hold” due to his legal battles.
He said many of the regulations Reynolds mentioned were compliance matters that would be unfair to enforce before the chicken houses were built.
“They are putting the cart before the horse by making him comply with these regulations before he obtains a permit,” Singley said.
He also argued that because residents objected to Le’s farm, he is under more scrutiny than the average permit requester. He said the initial inspection took place in January and Magee’s home was moved to the property in March. Because of this, Le’s permits should stand, Singley said, adding that putting a “trailer up in the darkness of night” does not change the inspector's report.
Singley said plaintiffs were not denied an evidential hearing because Reynolds, along with Singley and the MDEQ’s lawyer, made depository motions, which cut out the hearing.
“They agreed to this process. It was only until when it ruled not in their favor do they mention it,” he said.
MDEQ attorney Roy Furrh went through the facts of the case, ultimately agreeing with Singley on every point, noting that MDEQ took a balanced position during the investigatory hearing, but he was there to uphold the permit board’s decision.
“The permit board requests you affirm this decision,” he said, adding that they issued the permits after finding they met all quantifications.
After a nearly four-hour hearing, Smith said he would take the testimony under advisement and rule in a couple of weeks.