County hears from both sides of poultry fight, votes on moratorium

Gordon County commissioners heard from both sides of the ongoing poultry operation discussion this week, eventually voting to extend the previous 60-day moratorium on new operation requests to Nov. 16.

Prior to their regularly scheduled meeting this week, Gordon County commissioners heard from several members of the public concerning the ongoing poultry farm issue.

During the commission’s work session Tuesday, several speakers shared concerns, both in favor of and against large chicken operations as the county’s most recent moratorium on new permit applications nears its end.

As a result of the discussion, commissioners eventually voted unanimously to extend the soon-to-expire halt on new poultry operation zoning requests to Nov. 16.

Back on Aug. 20, the commission held an emergency called meeting and voted unanimously in favor of an immediate 60-day halt to all new zoning requests concerning poultry operations so considerations might be made for possible modifications to the county’s Unified Land Development Code — the document that matters of zoning must adhere to locally.

The current version of the county’s ULDC was written in July of 2015, with amendments concerning dry litter poultry operations made two years later in July of 2017.

Addressing the board on the issue of historic preservation as it relates to large chicken house operations, Al Stone said he spoke on behalf of over 700 local citizens, several large corporations and organizations and Native American groups who have offered support to his Environmental Defense of Georgia advocacy organization’s opposition to large dry litter poultry operations.

“We would simply ask you, Gordon County Commissioners, to turn this potential poultry environmental disaster into a blessing. To protect our most sacred area and its water ... while looking at the possibility of making this place a distinguished and financial benefit to Gordon County and the United States of America,” Stone said. “Please, please, please join us and make Gordon County a proud home of the Cherokee.”

Much of the most recent opposition of large poultry operations has centered around a summer request to rezone 577 acres on Evergreen Road for a dry litter operation adjacent to Stone’s farm. That was withdrawn shortly after it was recommended for denial by the county zoning board in mid-September.

On the opposite side of the issue, local third generation poultry farmer Jacob Williams told commissioners that large operations are the new normal, even for local family-owned farms.

“Poultry is important to Gordon County,” Williams said. “Poultry can be, and is produced in a way that protects our natural resources while providing a living for landowners and food for all of us here in Georgia.”

Williams asked that the current moratorium be lifted and said the parameters already in place are sufficient for businesses like his to operate.

“Please be fair to all when deciding the direction to go after the moratorium is lifted in Gordon County,” he said. “We shouldn’t overreact to situations that were possibly misunderstood. Decisions should be made on facts. Please consider lifting the moratorium and acknowledge that the ordinances previously put in place are more than sufficient. Chicken farms are having to get larger in order for people to stay in the business and survive.”

County Administrator Jim Ledbetter, who would have a hand in any potential ULDC changes, shed light on the struggle of finding balance while drafting changes to zoning requirement in dealing with such issues.

“How can I protect our local farmers, our mom and pop farms ... our citizens who farm verses for lack of a better term .. mega farms?” Ledbetter asked. “How do we protect our farmers who are here and working now? I want to do that, if possible, in a recommended ordinance.”

Commissioner Bruce Potts echoed Ledbetter’s concerns of finding the right mix with any future ULDC updates that may occur.

“When it comes to this body, we have to figure out where the balance is,” Potts said.

Also speaking before the commission, David McKnight talked about the importance of protecting the watersheds in Gordon County and the area’s drinking water. Additionally, Meg Reidy read a statement from Stuart Mason who is concerned about the value of his family’s 24 acres on part of the Coosawatee river, along with potential long-term health risks and contamination of well water and air quality, he says is connected to an adjacent poultry farm.

Ledbetter said the county would be checking on Mason’s concerns to see if any potential violations are occurring at the operation near his property.

Items on the agenda for commission’s regular meeting included several votes to approve purchases.

A pair of X-ray machines, costing $14,200 each, were approved for purchase by a 5-0 vote. The machines will be for the court system in the new judicial building.

Also for the judicial building, the commission approved $38,604.48 for the purchase of information technology-related furniture, fixtures and equipment, as well as $264,177.45 for furnishings including desks, chairs and other items.

Finally, the commission also unanimously approved the naming of Commissioner Bud Owens as the county’s 2021 delegate to upcoming ACCG Policy Council meeting in Savannah, with Commissioner Potts as his alternate. That meeting is set to take place Nov. 12 through 15.

The next scheduled Gordon County Board of Commissioners meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 19. All meetings are open to the public.


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