Emotions running high in Indiana farm fight

Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar business in Indiana that puts thousands of people to work. But what happens when an industrial hog farm wants to move in next door? It's a growing conflict across Indiana with high stakes and even higher emotions.

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

JACKSON COUNTY - Hubert Brumett is a World War II veteran who is now facing yet another battle.

He is fighting to protect his Jackson County home from who's about to move in next door.

Thousands of hogs and a huge swine barn are planned for the farm field right behind Hubert's house – and family members say it may force the 93-year-old into a nursing home.

"It just breaks my heart to see this," said Brenda Brumett, Hubert's daughter-in-law. "He fought for his country. He worked hard. He raised his children. Give him the dignity to live on his own land and end his life the way he wants to live."

Brumett's plight is just the latest example of a growing showdown across a state. On one side: farmers, the agricultural industry and lawmakers trying to protect Indiana's position as a leading state for farming. On the other: homeowners in rural areas who say they are now left practically helpless to protect their families, homes and quality of life from the realities of modern agriculture.

And the showdowns are not going away.

War stories

Brumett still has vivid memories of serving in New Guinea during the second World War. Assigned to the 1127th Military Police company and the Fifth Air Force, he protected B-24 Liberator aircraft from snipers and Japanese bombers.

"The B-24s were loaded with bombs and they had to be on the runway and ready to leave at 6:00 in the morning," Brumett said. "It was our job to guard them."

He recalls the sound of Japanese planes flying overhead – and the American planes that engaged them.

"I saw one come to dive and he shot him down in a ball of fire. Then he went back up and went around and made a circle, and he came down on another and shot him down, too," Brumett explained, moving his hands through the air to help illustrate a battle over the Solomon Sea that took place 70 years earlier.

Unlike other MPs in his company who did not survive the War, Hubert returned from the South Pacific in 1945. He moved to Jackson County, and a decade later he built his current home between Uniontown and Dudleytown, about an hour's drive south of Indianapolis.

He's lived there ever since.

"It's about as good a place as I've found," Brumett said, using a tall walking stick to take his daily stroll through his wooded property. "This is home."

Hubert spent decades farming soybeans and corn on the land surrounding his house, and he also worked for Arvin Industries making automotive mufflers and tailpipes. Now retired, the great grandfather spends much of his time walking his property and gazing at the Jackson County countryside from the swing he built on his porch.

That might soon come to an end.

4,000 hogs. 600 feet.

Another Jackson County family has submitted an application to build a hog barn nearby. Very nearby.

The facility would sit about 600 feet – 250 steps – from Brumett's bedroom window. It's designed to be longer than a football field. The concentrated animal feeding operation, commonly referred to as a CAFO, will hold 4,000 swine and a million gallons of their manure

"They're trying to put that hog farm right in your back door. I mean, that's something else when they try doing that," Brumett said.

The veteran has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease, which already make it hard for him to breathe. The smell of hog manure -- more than a million gallons of it – would pose an additional challenge to Hubert's health, according to his doctor. Family members say it would likely force him to move out of the house he's live in for almost 60 years.

"He wants to walk on his own land. He wants to sit in his own swing… If the CAFO comes in, he can't sit there," daughter-in-law Brenda said. "That's just not right."

The Brumetts are not alone.

Hundreds of families live near the proposed CAFO, with more than 100 homes located within about one mile of the site.

$54,000 announcement

"It's a very quiet and friendly neighborhood, and all these people have lived here for years, said Karen Walker, whose house sits directly downwind of the planned hog farm.

Her late husband built the home, and the Walker property line is 500 feet from the CAFO.

"The wind blows from that direction right across my property. I won't be able to use my pool, my hot tub, my outdoors," Walker said. "I'd lose all that."

Walker is now looking to sell. She listed her home with a Realtor a week before the hog farm project was announced, and the house and property were appraised at $175,000.

A few weeks later, after the community learned about the CAFO plans next door, Walker's home value dropped to $121,500.

"My appraised value went down $54,000 the day [the Jackson County Planning Commission] decided it was OK to give them a variance to put that in back there by my property line," Walker said, trying to hold back tears. She paused her interview with WTHR to cry for a moment, then dried her eyes and continued. "It's been really stressful. I've had zero interest in my land since this was announced – zero. I'm putting it in God's hands now."

It's an emotional issue that affects communities all across Indiana.

"Don't have an option"

Indiana currently has more than 1,800 concentrated feeding operations throughout the state, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management says it receives 60 to 70 new applications each year – mostly for large-scale pork, beef and poultry operations.

As some of the CAFOs inch closer and closer to more populated areas, nearby residents have few options to prevent such farms from moving into the neighborhood.

According to state regulations, a CAFO can be placed just 300 feet from an existing home and 100 feet from a neighbor's property line.

In recent months, dozens of Jackson County residents attended public hearings to voice strong opposition to the new hog farm. The county planning commission and zoning board unanimously approved the proposal anyway, citing adequate setbacks from neighbors. The proposal can next go to IDEM for final approval.

State regulators say they sympathize with nearby homeowners but cannot consider most of their concerns when reviewing the application.

"I can understand their frustrations and certainly feel for them," said IDEM deputy commissioner Bruce Palin. "But the odors and the property values, none of those are a part of the regulatory requirements that we can take into consideration in deciding whether to issue an approval for a confined feeding operation. If [applicants] satisfy the design criteria and have proper setbacks from wells, waterways, roads and structures, we really don't have an option to deny a permit."

Legal challenge

Some homeowners in Jackson County are now turning to the courts, trying to fight back with a lawsuit.

They have filed a complaint in Jackson County Circuit Court, hoping a judge will reverse the zoning board's decision and deny approval for the large-scale hog barn.

"We need a place to live, and we feel like 300 feet [away] is definitely too close," said Gary McDonald, one of the residents who filed the lawsuit. "When you're that close, you're really living in the hog house."

McDonald is concerned not only about the odor and the potential decline in property values, but also about the impact a CAFO might have on the environment and residents' health.

He lives several miles from the proposed hog barn, but worries that a similar project could be approved much closer to him.

"It could happen to anyone in this neighborhood," he said. "Nobody really knows what the impact will be, and no one seems to be looking out for our rights."

But as homeowners try to protect their rights, farmers wonder what's happening to theirs.

Farmers fight for their dream

"We certainly are not ashamed of the project we've proposed. It's perfectly legal and it's necessary," said Kyle Broshears.

"We are doing what we're required to do, and then some," added his wife, Leah.

The Broshears are the family trying to build the controversial CAFO in Jackson County.

They say it shouldn't be controversial at all. Nine other hog CAFOs, nearly identical to the facility proposed by the Broshears, already exist in Jackson County – and one of them is less than a mile and half away.

"No one has complained about those," said Kyle, arguing that home values near the existing CAFOs have not experienced sharp declines. "I can understand how people would have a concern, but I don't believe this farm or any other that's already here in the county will be what they're saying it will be… and we do not support the idea that there will be any health effects to be had from this facility."

Kyle and Leah say they have been around farms their whole life.

They both raised animals – including hogs – when they were children. They were both active FFA members in their teens. They are now parents of two young boys, and they want to pass down their farming tradition.

"Our fathers were both in it, and we hope someday these guys will be in it, too," Kyle said, looking at his sons. "It's just a great way to grow up."

He told WTHR planting row crops is too expensive, and small-scale livestock farming is not cost efficient.

"Those days, they're gone," said Broshears, who says his proposed hog farm has been in the works for more than a decade. "CAFOs are the way that it's done in today's modern agriculture system."

Handling all that manure

The Broshears Family Farm LLC hog barn would be a state-of-the-art facility with a concrete-lined manure pit under the floor, according to the proposal.

"Everything is contained inside the building 100 percent. There should be no manure leaving this building unless we specifically and purposely want to leave this building," Kyle explained.

Much of the manure will be applied to farm fields surrounding the CAFO, which are owned by Leah's parents. The Broshears admit an odor from the facility will be inevitable.

"There will be smell, and there's no technology to date that can eliminate the smell of manure from pigs," Kyle said. But he's confident the hog farm will not a pose a health threat to neighbors – so confident, he plans to have his entire family spend a large amount of time inside the CAFO.

"These guys -- when they get old enough -- and even Leah will be in this barn, as will I, every single day, twice a day, for hours on end," explained Broshears, addressing neighbors' concerns that the family will keep its home in Seymour instead of living close to the facility. "We're not hiring people to do this for us, so the idea that we wouldn't be exposed to what they're being exposed to, there's no truth to that statement."

And the Broshears family says it's important to remember their hog farm isn't being built in a big city. It's in an area specifically zoned for agriculture.

"This use fits that criteria perfectly," Kyle said, adding that the approval process for the facility has been much harder than expected. "I don't think it should be that difficult. I really don't."

"And if you can't put it here, where do you put it?" asked Leah.

Both Kyle and Leah say they would like to meet with concerned neighbors to find common ground and areas for compromise – and to resolve their differences out of court.

"We would certainly be more than happy to do that," Kyle said. "I would hold out hope that's still a possibility." Without such a resolution, the permitting process could drag on for months, forcing the Broshears to further delay their state application and pushing back any hope of an operational swine barn to 2016.

Lawmakers intervene

The Broshears and other CAFO farmers may be getting a big shot in the arm from state lawmakers, who have a history of supporting industrialized agriculture in Indiana. With several farmers serving in the General Assembly – and with the urging and backing of powerful industry lobbying groups such as the Indiana Farm Bureau and Indiana Pork Producers – bills to protect and grow the state's multi-billion dollar CAFO industry have been plentiful. This year's legislative session is no different.

Senate Joint Resolution 12, introduced today by Sen. Brent Steele (R – Bedford), would amend the Indiana constitution to guarantee "the right of the people of Indiana to engage in diverse farming and ranching practices" and stipulates "the General Assembly may not pass a law that unreasonably abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ or refuse to employ effective agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices."

One day earlier, Sen. Jean Leising (R – Oldenburg), a farm owner and chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced Senate Bill 249. The bill would make it illegal for an Indiana county, municipality or township to adopt any ordinance or rule that would prohibit a farmer from constructing a livestock facility in an area zoned for agricultural use.

The proposed legislation is good news for farmers, who often face a hostile reception from longtime residents who don't want a CAFO in their neighborhood.

But those residents – many who have lived in their homes for generations, long before large industrialized CAFOs began to spread across the Indiana landscape – say there are no lawmakers introducing legislation and protections for them. They worry what the future will bring.

"It's not a matter of 'Do we want to farm?' or 'Do we want to live here?' We already live here. There's already farms all around," Walker said. "I am not against farming. I'm against putting something of that magnitude with that impact into a neighborhood where there are 400 people going to be impacted by it."

"Yeah, this really has nothing to do with farming," said Brenda Brumett. "We're all farmer people. Almost every one of us. Dad, he was a farmer. But why should he have to give up his home that he's lived in all these years for someone else to make a profit? He fought for our freedom. Where is his freedom and his choice? Why should he have to give that up?"

See a map showing the location of Indiana CAFOs and a database that lists all active CAFO and CFO permits issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.