Residents criticize pig farmer at Elysburg hearing
ELYSBURG - Cleveland Township residents who attended Monday night's public meeting and hearing on Joel Knoebel's large-scale animal-feeding operation application criticized the local farmer for sloppy paperwork, failing to renew state permits in a timely manner and being consistently late submitting required quarterly reports.
In the meeting hall of the Elysburg Fire Company, residents asked the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to deny Knoebel's permit.
"People who don't follow the rules should not be given a slap on the wrist," said Marianne Zenyuch, of 89 Monroe Drive.
Knoebel provided no reasonable or extenuating circumstances that would forgive his violations, she said.
Barbara Freeman, of 74 Wynn School Road, said the rules should apply to everyone.
"Those who chose not to abide by them should not be allowed to operate," she said.
Knoebel, who left during a brief break between the public meeting and hearing, had no comment about the criticism following the public meeting.
Knoebel's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit application for his existing Cleveland Pork Farm was issued on June 3, 2008, and expired on June 2 of this year. In early August, DEP and Knoebel signed a consent order and agreement that required the submission of a new application by Sept. 30, which is what the meeting was held to discuss.
The farmer was called irresponsible, arrogant and disrespectful throughout the night. He was labeled a "bad actor" and a "15-year-old child" by Maria Payan, the executive director of Peach Bottom Concerned Citizens Group (PBCCG) whose been acting as a consultant for the residents.
"This is not how a responsible adult handles business. He's not a good neighbor," she said.
Knoebel did not respond to the insults, but he responded to specific questions and said more than once the information could be found in the application and paperwork.
Knoebel, his consultant Todd Rauch of TeamAg Inc., Ephrata, and DEP officials, environmental program manager Thomas Randle, regional director Marcus Kohl and reviewing engineer Jon Peterman spent 90 minutes attempting to answer questions from the crowd of 40.
The CAFO in question spawned a lawsuit earlier this year by Knoebel against 57 township residents living in the R-2 Residential Medium Density District near his farm. Knoebel dropped the lawsuit in July because the residents agreed not to appeal Knoebel's plans for the chicken barn 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.
Knoebel, of Center School Road, owns Cleveland Pork, a five-year-old pork producing operation. He operates two CAFOs on 600 acres of property in the region: a 4,500-pig farm located on the home property, approximately three miles east of the R2 District, and a 2,200-pig farm in Irish Valley, operated as RK Farms Inc.
The 30-minute public hearing, which took place directly after the public meeting, was monitored by Daniel Spadoni, community relations coordinator for DEP's North Central Regional Office. Each resident who wished to speak had five minutes with no reply from DEP.
Kohl said the testimony would be recorded and considered in the permit application, but the department would not make a decision until sometime in the first quarter next year.
Written testimony can be submitted until Dec. 26 to DEP Clean Water Program Manager, DEP's North Central Regional Office, 208 W. Third St., Suite 101, Williamsport 17701.
DEP will respond to each oral or written testimony, said Spadoni.