Miss. Supreme Court upholds Oktibbeha Co. hog farm permit

Published 4:37 pm Friday, December 1, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday ruled Bill Cook’s hog farm in Oktibbeha County is operating legally.

The justices upheld a permit the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality granted Cook in 2002.

Nearby residents complained for years that the odor from the hog operation made them ill. MDEQ officials said the odor complaints were subjective.

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The Sierra Club and local resident Everett Kennard said his family suffered severe respiratory problems because of the stench. He asked a judge in Oktibbeha County to reverse the MDEQ’s granting of a permit. Chancery Judge Robert L. Lancaster sided with MDEQ’s Permit Board in 2005.

The Sierra Club and Kennard appealed to the Supreme Court.

Among the claims in their lawsuit was that the permit issued by MDEQ should be more strict on Cook’s operation.

Cook’s farm houses about 7,000 hogs in several large barns. The animals’ waste, equivalent to the municipal sewage of a small town, flows into a 4-acre holding pond.

In its appeal, the Sierra Club questioned the requirement for a “windbreak wall,” a barrier such as a tarp spread behind the barns to knock odor particles out of the air.

Some experts have said tests show benefits from the barriers but information was limited.

The Sierra Club argued there are other proven techniques to control odor, including processing waste in closed systems rather than in the open air.

MDEQ officials said the windbreak wall requirement is more cost-effective than other fixes.

Justice Jess H. Dickinson, writing for the Supreme Court, said the court could find no error in the issuance of the permit to Cook.

“The Permit Board obviously determined the requirements it placed in Cook’s air quality permit would result in the facility’s compliance with state air quality standards,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson said Kennard’s dissatisfaction with that decision doesn’t mean the Permit Board erred.

“The Permit Board found that odor problems existed at Cook’s facility, although perhaps not to the extent argued by Kennard, and it took positive steps to address those problems with the inclusion in Cook’s permit of an air pollution chapter requiring several control measures, including a windbreak wall,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson said the only question was whether the Permit Board’s decision was supported by the evidence.

“It was, and therefore we affirm both the judgment of the chancellor and the decision of the Permit Board,” Dickinson said.