A lack of regard for the public’s opinion in Bedford County, Virginia.[/caption] Yesterday in the Sunday News and Advance newspaper an opinion piece from their Editorial Board  expressed the concern many citizens in Bedford County have after witnessing the June 9th public hearing concerning zoning changes for CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). With the rush to vote many members of the local community are disturbed and wondering how to respond to what appears to be a lack of transparency and a disregard for public concern. Here is the article from the News and Advance:

By THE NEWS and ADVANCE EDITORIAL BOARD When leaders in Bedford County decide on a course of action, it’s full speed ahead evidently, no matter what the public thinks. We’re talking about last Monday’s joint public hearing held by the Board of Supervisors and the county planning commission on proposed changes to the county’s zoning ordinances regarding setbacks for “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs for short. Of “factory farms” in reality. And they are just that: large buildings for “growing” animals for corporate food processors. Thirty thousand chickens. Thousands of cattle or pigs. Factories in every sense of the word that produce toxic environmental waste. County residents caught wind of the politicians’ intentions to dramatically reduce setback requirements for these factories and turned out in large numbers, filling the board chamber and spilling into the hallway. Under the old ordinance, CAFOs were allowed but with setbacks of 1,000 feet for poultry operations and 2,500 feet for other animals. The setbacks were designed to protect neighboring properties, homes, residential subdivisions, streams and public water sources. But after Monday night and a 6-1 vote by the supervisors, those setbacks have been slashed. Now, instead of 1,000 feet for chickens or 2,500 feet for other animals, it’s 250 feet. Except for homes; chickens and cows can come within 300 feet while for pigs, it’s 500 feet. As one speaker at the public hearing pointed out, that’s only the length of football field from a home. And we’re not talking about a bucolic scene of beef cattle grazing in a lush green pasture or chickens scratching and pecking in a wide-open field. We’re talking about thousands of animals being “grown” in large buildings built on a concrete slab, generating thousands of tons of waste either to be collected on site or trucked off. Certainly doesn’t sound like a “farm” operation to us. Sounds much more like a factory in need of more government and environmental oversight, not less. That’s what a great many of the people who showed up for Monday night’s public hearing thought so, as well. Farmers and members of the county’s Agricultural Economic Development Advisory Board at the meeting spoke about the benefits to the county and their livelihoods from such operations: increased economic activity in the county, farms that are more financially stable, farmers able to keep farming. Other residents spoke about air and water pollution dangers posed by factory farms. They spoke about waste disposal and collection on-site. To say it was a contentious meeting would be an understatement. Sensing the public’s split on the matter, Planning Commission member Jeff Burdett quite properly moved to table a decision that night, in an attempt to buy time for further study of the matter. He lost that motion on tied vote, 3-3, and was next on the losing end of a 4-2 vote to approve the setback cuts. After the hand-off from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors, it became apparent what the result would be. Supervisor Steve Wilkerson proposed to amend the setback requirements for operations near private homes, but the ball was rolling down hill for approval. And that’s what happened. On a 6-1 vote with only Chairman John Sharp objecting, the supervisors OK’d the new ordinance. What would have been the problem with the supervisors taking more time to study the issue, to hold meetings and work sessions with the public and all interested parties? That’s what Sharp wanted to do, sensing the deep split in the board chambers that night and in the public at large. But apparently his colleagues had already made up their minds. No more public hearings. One and done. That was enough for the majority of the board. In the end, the process of good government lost Monday night in Bedford. Supervisors had a chance to involve the public in a major decision, working with them and bringing them into the governing process. But, instead, they chose not to. Read the article at NewsAndAdvance.com]]>

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