COLUMBIA -- The first rules for running animal farms in South Carolina moved to within one step of completion Thursday as state health officials approved requirements that will put the toughest limits on factory hog farms.
The new rules, about two years in the making, were finalized after the Department of Health and Environmental Control board eased limitations on how long a farm may remain inactive before seeking a new permit.
"It's something we can work with," said Jack Shuler, Pee Dee Farm Credit's chief executive, who attended Thursday's public hearing. "It's better than what we started with. I'm just glad we have some definitive regulations we can go forward with."
The rules generally keep hog farms farther from neighboring property lines and rivers than informal state guidelines allow. Cattle and poultry farms also face regulations, though generally not as restrictive.
Facilities currently operating would not be subject to the new requirements.
The 50-page document now goes to the General Assembly for review.
As part of a temporary law limiting large hog operations, legislators last year ordered DHEC to come up with detailed regulations for all animal farms by 1998.
"I believe the Legislature will go along with this," said Marion Sadler of DHEC's wastewater division, who crafted the legislation.
The most stringent limits are placed on hog farms of more than 3,000 pigs, considered the greatest danger to the environment. Waste from massive hog farms with leaking lagoons have damaged a handful of North Carolina rivers.
Hog lagoons will be restricted to a quarter-mile to half-mile from rivers, creeks and lakes, though they can come within 500 feet of some waters if special liners are used. Lagoons also must be 1,000 to 1,750 feet from another person's land.
Lagoons at poultry and cattle farms can come within 100 feet of rivers, creeks and lakes, the existing state standard, and as close as 300 feet to a property line.
Farmers and loan institutions had objected to a requirement that would have forced operations closed for more than two years to apply for a new permit before they could reopen.
Several farmers told the board the limit would place undue restrictions on those who rotate production or want to experiment with a new crop. Lenders said the rule could affect a farm's ability to repay loans.
"From time to time, farmers may need to change direction," said Darrell Brubaker, a dairy farmer from Bamberg. "It puts a lot of stress on us to go and get repermitted if we want to reopen a facility."
Board members eventually decided to require new permits once an operation has been inactive for five years. Those inactive between two and five years would be subject to DHEC review for possible modifications.