CLEVELAND TOWNSHIP - Township residents who have been opposed to Joel Knoebel's concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) are not surprised his permits were renewed by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) despite recent violations.

While Knoebel no doubt sees it as a victory, his neighbors believe they've won, too.

"If they give him permits, they can keep an eye on him," said Virginia Dall, of 78 Ridge Acres Road. "At least, this way he'll be monitored somewhat."

DEP is now "aware of how he conducts his business, and they'll be watching him," added Johanna Lucid, of 24 Wynn School Road. "I think we won."

DEP announced Wednesday that Knoebel was approved for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) CAFO permit application for his existing 4,360-hog operation, with a total storage capacity of 1.4 million gallons.

Knoebel and his representative through TeamAg. Inc., Ephrata, did not return a request for comment.

Knoebel has been served multiple violation notices by the state for being consistently late submitting required quarterly and annual reports since 2010, failing to renew his current permit application at least 180 days prior to its expiration, and failing to pay civil penalties for these violations in a timely manner. DEP North-central Regional Director Marcus Kohl said the department carefully reviewed the latest application and determined it met all the applicable federal and state requirements.

"The issuance of this permit allows DEP to maintain clear, regulatory oversight of this facility, thus ensuring protection of the environment and nearby residents," he said.

Knoebel was first issued an NPDES CAFO permit for his Cleveland Township operation by DEP on June 3, 2008. It expired on June 2, 2013. In early August 2013, DEP and Knoebel signed a consent order and agreement that required Knoebel to submit a new application by Sept. 30.

The new permit, which becomes effective April 1, is valid for five years.

Daniel Spadoni, community relations coordinator for DEP's North Central Regional Office, Williamsport, said Knoebel's permit would not have been issued if he had new or outstanding violations or unpaid penalties.

Public meeting

DEP provided opportunities for public input throughout its review process, including a public meeting and hearing Dec. 16 that was attended by 40 citizens, and a month for citizens to submit testimony.

DEP was required to respond to each submitted testimony.

In responding to Dall, it was written by DEP that, "it is a possibility that if this permit were not issued, the permittee could adjust his operation in a manner such that an NPDES permit would not be required. This could result in less oversight by the department."

Also, in responding to Thomas Lucid's testimony, DEP will ask Knoebel to voluntarily provide him with notification of manure applications in Lucid's vicinity as well as a voluntary incorporation of the manure within 24 hours of applying it.

Lucid said he and his wife Johanna would be monitoring Knoebel's moves "entirely and completely."

"It's not over 'til the fat lady sings, and I haven't sang yet," Johanna Lucid said.

Lawsuit

The CAFO in question spawned a lawsuit last year by Knoebel against 57 township residents living in the R-2 Residential Medium Density District near his farmland. Knoebel dropped the lawsuit in July because the residents agreed not to appeal Knoebel's plans due to lack of funds.

The debate with local residents began in April 2012 when manure was spread on farmland surrounding Wynn School, Middle and Polk roads. Residents complained about the "overwhelming" stench. Building more CAFOs in the R-2 zone, they say, would be detrimental to their health, quality of life and property values.

Individuals interested in reviewing the comment and response document can go to www.dep.state.pa.us and click on "Regional Resources," then "North-central," then "Community Information."