ATLANTA - State environmental regulators should tailor the requirements of poultry farmers to suit the size of their operations, a Georgia Board of Natural Resources committee recommended Thursday.
The board's Environmental Protection Committee took a relatively lenient approach toward small, family farms but wants to impose legal liability for cleanups of accidental waste spills at large farms on "integrators," the poultry companies that contract with chicken farmers.
"We may have a problem of such magnitude that the farmer couldn't handle it," said Sara Clark, the board's chairwoman.
The committee approved a series of recommendations to the staff of the state's Environmental Protection Division, which will incorporate them into proposed regulations for consideration by the full board. A final vote by board members is expected in September.
Among the panel's key recommendations were provisions requiring:
General permits for poultry farms of up to 3,000 animal units, which is defined as 90,000 laying hens or broilers for farms using liquid-manure waste handling systems. The committee opted to wait for pending federal regulations on dry-litter operations before acting on that category of farms.
Individual permits, a stricter standard, for poultry farms of up to 3,000 animal units when the EPD believes circumstances exist that could cause water supplies to become contaminated. The decision to require an individual permit would be made on a case-by-case basis, weighing such factors as proximity to streams or wells.
Individual permits for all new poultry farms of 3,000 or more animal units using liquid-manure systems.
Soil testing beneath fields where waste is sprayed as a disposal method and at least one ground water monitoring well downhill from waste lagoons.
A closure deadline of no more than 18 months for waste lagoons ordered closed by the state and 24 months if the closure is being undertaken voluntarily by the farmer.
Integrator responsibility for cleanups of accidental waste spills on new poultry farms of more than 3,000 animal units.
The committee's decision to impose different requirements on small and large poultry farms was the same approach the board used last year in adopting tougher regulations on hog farms.
One of the more heated discussions of the four-hour meeting was over how wide to make the required buffers surrounding waste lagoons and chicken barns. Committee member Ben Seay III, a frequent defender of family farmers on the board, objected to buffers as large as 700 feet, when he said there's no scientific evidence that lagoons can contaminate water supplies beyond 150 feet.
"You're taking a man's land and telling him how much of it he can use," he said.
On the other side of the issue, Justine Thompson, executive director of the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest, said it makes no sense for the state to impose legal liability on poultry companies for accidents at large farms and let them off the hook for what happens at small farms.
"It's the small farmers who don't have the resources to solve these problems," she said. "That's where the integrator needs to step in and help."
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