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Turkey farm suit returns to court

Local UMC bands together over environmental concerns to support plaintiff

By Jessica Connor

BISHOPVILLE — Members of Mount Zion United Methodist Church head back to court this month over eight new turkey grow-out barns in their rural community. But this time, they go for moral support, not as parties to the suit.

Mount Zion members “ the concerned citizens  in the administrative law court case Dennis Hoover and Concerned Citizens vs. S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and James T. Hoover “ have been dismissed from the case. Over the summer, church members banded together in the case to stop construction of James Hoover s turkey farm on property near the church, citing concerns about air, water and ground contamination, coupled with decreased property values and excessively foul odors. The lawsuit alleges DHEC did not follow proper public notification procedures in the initial hearing process.

Now, they are offering prayer and support for Dennis Hoover, the sole plaintiff and brother of James Hoover. Dennis Hoover was representing himself because of the high cost of legal representation, which neither he nor the church can afford, but as of press time he had hired an attorney.

A hearing on the merits of the case is set for Nov. 8 at 10 a.m. at the S.C. Administrative Law Court in Columbia.

We are continuing to be in dialogue about this in our church council meetings and in prayer as a church family, as it is a great concern for our church and the surrounding community,  said the Rev. Angela Ford Nelson, Mount Zion pastor.

I m very concerned about the health effects and the ill smells that are produced, and more flies,  said Mount Zion member Althea Belton, who said she particularly worries about people who live right next door to the proposed farm site, like Dennis Hoover, who likes to grow gardens and hunt and kill his own meat. I m really worried about them. 

Grow-out barns are facilities where young birds are provided with optimum temperature, food, lighting and other controls so they can grow as big as possible before being sold to grocers. Mount Zion members and some residents on or near Eddie Watkins Road in Bishopville are upset about the barns. People fish from streams and ponds surrounding the proposed turkey grow-out barns, and the church also has a playground area and ball field where they host community-wide family activities, which they believe will suffer from poor air quality and the stench and flies they expect will come from the turkey farm.

In July, DHEC told the Advocate it did file the proper procedures, and that nearby residents should understand DHEC has very strict procedures and regulations that they follow to a tee. Farms are fully regulated and frequently inspected to make sure operations are following the requirements. James Hoover also told the Advocate in July that residents have nothing to fear and that Prestage Farms, which will operate the turkey grow-out barns, is a first-class company that will not pollute the water or the community.

Other nearby residents say they don t think Mount Zion needs to worry about the turkey farm being built near them.

Donna Boyce, a member of St. Matthews UMC, Bishopville, is no stranger to turkey farms. Her husband cleans them, and her brother-in-law owns one.

You can t smell it, and it s not going to hurt anybody,  Boyce said. I don t know what the big uproar is about. 

Boyce said turkey farms are appropriate in rural Bishopville, where other agriculture operations exist and where there is plenty of land. She said DHEC s regulations are very strictly enforced, and people should not worry.

The Rev. Kimberly Evans, pastor of the St. Matthew Circuit, Bishopville, lives two minutes from the site and says she doesn t smell anything that is really foul from nearby farms.

I am not a professional or an environmentalist, so I can t speak from that point of view, but from being a resident, I don t smell anything disgusting,  Evans said. Yes, in the summertime there are cow pastures around and, yes, you smell the cow pasture, but that s what you expect when you live in the country. We all have to have beef and turkey. 

Stacy McCorkle, whose family lives in Bishopville and who attends church there “ and whose parents live next door to a turkey farm “ said an occasional smell when the wind shifts is par for the course  in the country, whether from a turkey, chicken or hog farm.

The people in the area know that s just farming, and people have to make a living somehow,  McCorkle said, noting that DHEC s regulations are extremely stringent. It s not like they can go in and plop down these turkey houses. They have to make sure no water supplies are going to be contaminated, they are so far away from homes, everything. They are very, very strict with what they have to go by. 

She said there has never been a problem from a nearby turkey farm, environmental or otherwise.

However, Belton said she knows of two other turkey farms in the area that are causing problems from flies and foul smells at certain times of the day. She said one woman with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has to close her windows and doors all the time, and yet she still experiences worse symptoms because of nearby farms.

We are concerned,  Belton said.

Rev. Nelson said she commends Rev. Evans, as well as James Hoover, for their willingness to dialogue about Mount Zion s concern. It is her hope that, regardless of how the case is decided, this matter will serve to open the way for continued community interaction and dialogue on this concern and others that may arise in the future.

Check future editions of the Advocate for more on the proceedings.

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