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Allegations of a Conflict of Interest Brought Forth During CAFO Hearing


By Crystal Howerton

The Knox County Commission granted Marvin Penn, Penn Farms, a County Construction Permit for a Class II Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) on State Highway AA during a public hearing on July 25, in spite of protests and requests for delays from attending citizens.

Presiding Commissioner L.P. (Pete) Mayfield credited the Commission’s decision to issue the permit in spite of requests for delays to inclusive paperwork. Commissioners had in their possession an official survey and a DNR-approved permit prior to the hearing
Ruth Hettinger, who has been actively opposed to CAFO’s in recent months, called upon the Commission to answer multiple questions regarding procedure. In addition, Hettinger suggested that there was a conflict of interest in allowing Prosecuting Attorney David Brown to preside over the hearing and represent Knox County, while performing legal work for the Penn family. By his own admission, Brown drew up a deed for the Penn’s, however he denied any conflict of interest and viewed his support to the Commission as a matter of convenience
Citizens questioned how the construction of this CAFO would affect residents of the Knox County Nursing Home and students at Knox County R-1 Schools, which are located less than four miles from the proposed site. In addition, Tracy Snelling, residing just over one-half mile from the proposed site, is concerned with the how the CAFO will affect her 10-year-old son’s health as well as her own. Snelling said that her son regularly suffers ill affects from sinus and allergy problems and she is worried that having a CAFO nearby will only exacerbate those problems. She fears that continued exposure to these unwelcome surroundings will diminish his quality of life. Snelling herself suffers from an immunological disease, already displaying symptoms similar to those that have been associated with CAFO’s. Therefore, her doctor has recommended that her son be tested for allergies prior to the CAFO’s construction in order to form a baseline for monitoring the ill effects that may occur as a result of exposure. Her requests to delay issuance of the permit pending test results were denied.

In addition, Hettinger requested that the Commission delay issuing the permit until her lawyer was given ample time to review the construction permit issued by DNR on July 8, 2008, however her requests were also denied
Heated discussion persisted throughout the meeting, in addition to foul language and insults being exchanged between those present.

According to Mayfield, the Commission has little choice in granting County Health Permits when regulations set forth in the county health ordinance are met. There are currently twelve CAFO’s located in Knox County, six Class IV CAFO’s and six Class II CAFO’s, with three applications pending.