Farmer who wants new CAFO has three DEP violations
CLEVELAND TOWNSHIP - A local farmer who has been at odds with his neighbors over plans for a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) has been served three violation notices by the state and has been consistently late submitting required quarterly reports since 2010 in relation to his current CAFO.
The DEP violations only fuel the dispute between Joel Knoebel and Cleveland Township residents living in the R2 Residential Medium Density District who have been attempting to thwart Knoebel's plan to build two 43-by-500-foot poultry barns along Wynn School Road.
"He has a sense that he can do everything he pleases, even with the rules that are written," said Virginia Dall, of Ridge Acres Road. "It shows a lack of caring. It makes me feel like he is not a good steward of the land."
Johanna Lucid, of Wynn School Road, is also critical.
"How can he be allowed to proceed when he's not in compliance now?"
But Jedd Moncavage, a representative for Knoebel, said the problems with DEP are "purely administrative and that no environmental impact has occurred."
Moncavage, an environmental consulting services manager with TeamAg Inc., Ephrata, offered comment in a statement emailed to The News-Item on Knoebel's behalf.
He said Knoebel has retained Team Ag to assist him in the "resolutions of any and all violation currently enacted" by DEP.
TeamAg is comprised of agricultural engineers and consultants and specializes in environmental permitting and planning for agricultural operations, Moncavage said.
Knoebel and his wife, Sarah, of Center School Road, own Cleveland Pork, a 5-year-old pork producing operation. The couple operate two CAFOs on their 600 acres of property in the region: a 4,500-pig farm located on their home property, approximately three miles east of the R2 District, and a 2,200-pig farm in Irish Valley, operated as RK Farms Inc.
Working to resolve
Copies of the notices of violations were provided to The News-Item from Daniel Spadoni, community relations coordinator for DEP's North Central Regional Office, Williamsport.
"We are currently working with Mr. Knoebel to resolve these violations. No civil penalties have been assessed at this time," Spadoni said Friday.
All notices were signed by Patricia Havens, environmental group manager with DEP's waterways and wetlands program.
The first notice, sent in letters dated May 6 and June 4, notified Knoebel he was in violation of the Clean Streams Law by operating his CAFO along Center School Road with an expired permit. Under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, anyone wishing to continue operating a CAFO must submit a permit application at least 180 days prior to the permit's expiration. Knoebel's permit expired June 2.
The first notice was sent twice because it was initially returned as unclaimed by the post office, Spadoni said.
DEP then sent a second notice on June 21.
A permit application was submitted by Knoebel June 26, but the application was returned July 17 because it was deficient, Spadoni said.
Since the application was received after the original permit expiration date, it must be processed as a new application, but the $1,500 associated fee for a new permit was not submitted, he said.
Also, a new application requires proof that the public notice of the application was published in a newspaper of general circulation in the locality in which the activity will be located once a week during a four-week period, which was not provided in the application, Spadoni said.
Furthermore, Knoebel had not submitted his 2011, 2012 or 2013 annual reports and two quarterly self-inspection reports that were due Jan. 15 and April 15. Also, all but two quarterly self-inspection reports from 2010 through the third quarter of 2012 were submitted late, according to the second notice.
For this violation, DEP proposed entering into a consent order with Knoebel that allows him to operate a CAFO for a limited time as he works to obtain a new permit.
It is not part of DEP's policy to reveal any further information, Spadoni said.
A third notice, dated June 25, notified Knoebel he did not file the appropriate paperwork when he purchased a swine farm operation at 612 Viall Hill Road, Towanda, and 70 acres of land in Bradford County from Daniel P. Hershberger.
An application for permit transfer is required to be submitted to DEP 30 days prior to the business transfer. By operating the CAFO without a permit, Knoebel is in violation of the Clean Streams Law, DEP says.
DEP was only notified when Hershberger verbally told state officials about the property transfer, Spadoni said.
It was confirmed in a phone call with Knoebel that the legal entity that purchased the CAFO is Knoebel Brothers Hog and Grain Farms Inc., he said.
The notices are not final orders and DEP reserves the right to inflict further enforcement action.
"If the department determines that an enforcement action is appropriate, you will be notified of the action," Havens said in the notices.
Questions on proposal
A DEP letter dated June 21 was sent to Knoebel seeking details on his proposed poultry operation, which was at the center of a lawsuit filed by Knoebel against 57 township residents earlier this year. The lawsuit was dropped in July because the residents agreed not to appeal Knoebel's plans for the chicken barn due to lack of funds.
In the letter, Havens said it had come to the department's attention that Knoebel was planning a new agricultural operation that may be defined as a CAFO. She asked for details about the location, the number and size of each barn, the type of animal the barns will house, acreage, the watershed he is operating, manure management details and more.
As of Monday, Spadoni said DEP did not have further information on the status.
"If the operation is a CAFO, it is the responsibility of the operator and sometime the property owner to obtain a CAFO permit before populating the barns," Spadoni said. "Other related permits may also be required prior to construction of buildings or manure storage facilities."
Residents still concerned
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.
They pushed for township supervisors to pass an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would limit large-scale animal farms in a residential district. It would ban against a CAFO from exceeding 100 livestock animals within 500 yards of a residential dwelling in the R-2 district.
Lucid said the neighbors' legal pursuit may have ended for now, but that she and others are not done fighting.
"We will monitor everything being done," she said. "We'll be on top everything."