JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A hog farm legal battle stuck in the muck for three years moved forward last week.
The Missouri Clean Water Commission has been blocked by a court-issued preliminary writ from voting on a permit for a proposed 10,000-sow breeding farm. But on Oct. 4, Judge Steven R. Ohmer — acting for the 19th Judicial Circuit of Missouri — dissolved that writ.
This means the CWC may now vote to approve or deny a permit for the Callaway Farrowing, LLC farm.
The court struggle began in November 2014, when area residents learned Iowa-based Eichelberger Farms Inc., planned to put a new hog operation in Hatton, Mo. Residents formed a nonprofit group called Friends of Responsible Agriculture and sought legal help to block the proposed confined animal feeding operation (CAFO).
In order to build the farm, Callaway Farrowing needed its permit approved by the CWC, according to Ohmer's judgment. Two members of the seven-member commission visited the site in 2015, and in July 2016, Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green ruled this disqualified them from voting on the permit.
State law "expressly confines the Clean Water Commission to only consider 'facts and evidence' that were introduced at the hearing conducted by the Administrative Hearing Commission," Green said in his judgment. "By driving by and observing the site of the Callaway Farrowing CAFO while the permit appeal was pending before them, Chairman (Ben A. "Todd") Parnell and Commissioner (Ashley) McCarty obtained 'facts and evidence' outside the hearing record."
On Oct. 5, 2016, the five remaining members voted 3-2 to approve the permit. However, FORAG sued on the grounds state law requires the approval of at least four members for a final action. Green agreed Dec. 21, ordering then-CWC chairman Bobby Bennett to announce the vote failed.
A second vote took place Jan. 11, where commissioners tied 2-2 on the issue, court documents state.
The commissioners planned a third vote April 5, which was blocked March 28 by a Cole County Circuit Court preliminary order of prohibition issued after FORAG's attorney filed a petition requesting that writ.
Ohmer decided Oct. 4 the CWC never made a final decision on the permit. In order for a final decision to have been made, the CWC needed to create a document called "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" summarizing the legal reasons for its decision.
Ohmer said in order for a court to hear a challenge the CWC's findings, a final decision must be made.
Callaway Farrowing appealed Green's Dec. 21 ruling overturning the permit approval in January, but the state appeals court in Kansas City has not yet ruled on that appeal, according to Missouri Casenet.