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Franklin County Zoning Changes Spark Fear Of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

Environmental activist Patricia Schuba discusses proposed changes to the Franklin County zoning map at a library in Union on November 9, 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Franklin County is considering zoning changes that would allow large livestock operations to be built in areas where they haven’t been permitted before. 

The proposed revisions to the county’s zoning map have many residents worried that the changes could make it easier for corporations to build concentrated animal feeding operations. Such industrial livestock farms produce large amounts of animal waste, which can pollute the air and water for nearby residents.

The changes to the zoning map can be hard to understand, but they show that CAFOs could be built in more areas of the county than they currently are, said Patricia Schuba, an environmental activist based in Labadie. 

“It’s wonky, it’s complicated; they’ve done it in these weird steps where people can’t see where the changes really are in the distribution across the county,” Schuba said. “But bottom line is, CAFOs are dangerous, and we don’t want them.”

Franklin County has four of Missouri’s approximately 500 CAFOs.

Scottie Eagan, the county’s planning and zoning director, would not say if the zoning changes would expand the areas where CAFOs would be allowed. 

“In terms of expanding where they would be permitted, [it’s] hard to give you a definite answer,” Eagan said in an email. “There are areas in the proposed rezoning which would allow CAFOs where they are currently not allowed but there are also a lot of areas of the county that are being proposed to rezone to not allow CAFOs where they are now allowed.” 

Fighting the proposed zoning changes could prevent more CAFOs from being built and protect residents’ health, said Heather Navarro, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Communities in Iowa, North Carolina and other states have reported respiratory problems caused by excessive methane and other toxic gases produced from CAFOs.

“We’re making it easier for factory farms to come in. So communities aren’t even aware of what’s happening until these things are built right next to them,” Navarro said. “This is an opportunity for the public to be proactive and say, 'We don’t want this here.'” 

To discuss the potential zoning changes and address community concerns over CAFOs, Navarro, Schuba and other activists spoke to a group of about 50 people Saturday at Union Scenic Public Library. 

Several residents said they did not want to live next to a CAFO, including Candy Larson Soete, a resident near Campbellton in western Franklin County. 

“I don’t want that near my 67-acre farm, polluting my water,” Soete said. “I’m hoping to pass our place on to our kids like other people here are.”

The Franklin County Commission plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. 

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.