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Mountville, again, faces off with the poultry producers

DHEC decides to conduct a public hearing and invite residents within a quarter mile of the affected land, west of Clinton


Mountville residents will know sometime after April 30 if 16 more chicken houses will be permitted on Lisbon Road land within their rural community.

Because more than 20 written comments were presented to DHEC prior to and after the official applications were posted, the agency was required to conduct a public hearing, which it did Tuesday night, inviting residents within a one-quarter mile radius of where Heath Coggins and Jim Young propose 8 new barns each, located beside each other.

The Chronicle was notified by opponents of the application.

The public hearing proposed for an hour lasted 90 minutes. Opponents spoke mostly, but poultry producers also pushed back.

At one point, a producer told an opponent, “Your husband sells Caterpillar (machinery) parts - do you know what producers use to bury dead chickens? - you’re cutting your own throat.”

The DHEC team made it clear that the public hearing was not to be a back and forth between opponents and the producers. Opponents’ messaging to the team was clear - Enough is enough.

When the 16 new barns are permitted and built, that will place 73 chicken houses on 9,760 acres in the Mountville community.

The DHEC team said they could do nothing about site-ing and density of farms in communities - they said if the producers meet all the regulations, the agency must issue a permit.

Chicken farms on this same land were rejected by the SC Court of Appeals in a case spanning the mid-2010s to early-2020s. Charles Blackmon, an opponent who among others was a main driver of the lawsuit, said a DHEC regulator told him at that time, “We’re going to have to be more careful permitting these things.”

At one point a DHEC team member said every chicken house in South Carolina is inspected every 4 years. Poultry producers said they face many more inspections than that, including a requirement to send documents soil samples to Clemson University.

Focus of the meeting was Lisbon Road. “It’s a beautiful road,” said Angelena Baldwin, who runs the Facebook page Vintage Laurens County.

But, with the proliferation of chicken houses, residents say their safety is compromised by hauling trucks and their enjoyment of life is compromised by the smell.

Poultry producers say the road also is compromised by logging trucks, hired by their neighbors to clear timber from the land.

“But, we don’t clear timber every day,” countered Sandra Kay McNair, who owns an 1824-era house on Lisbon Road.

“The trucks are constant,” she said. “If you add 16 more, Mountville will become nothing but a Superfund site.”

She implored the DHEC team to remember, “We live here” and said she also is concerned “about the (influence of) poultry lobbyists.”

Neither applicant lives on Lisbon Road.

State law is requiring a future split of the massive Department of Health and Environment Control into two divisions under one super-agency. Some of its regulatory work, at that time, will shift to the Department of Agriculture.

DHEC staff said the department spent a year upgrading its environmental regulations to comply with federal regulations, and that process was driven by “stakeholders.” If producers meet updated setback and water runoff regulations, among some others, there is nothing legally blocking them from receiving a permit.

Because DHEC did not include the full application documents on its initial posting of the Coggins and Young sites, it will leave its written comments deadline open until April 30.

Originally, the deadline was April 3 for the Young property and April 9 for the Goggins property.

But opponents said there was no way they could have known about the new applications, or know to check the DHEC website, and why should they - as these sites were rejected by the court previously. Initially withholding the full application was a way for DHEC to “stifle” opposition, some said. 

Otherwise, where chicken houses are proposed becomes known just by community word of mouth. The DHEC team said if anyone knows of violations, those should be reported to the state agency, which will commission regional officers to visit the site. Opponents said that amounts to neighbors policing neighbors.

It takes the responsibility away from the state, they say.

DHEC officials said in their permitting process, state regulations do not require them to consider traffic, noise, road conditions, enjoyment of life, soil conditions, or zoning.

Those opposed to the facilities cannot petition the county government, since Laurens County has no zoning.

Its comprehensive plan is out of date (and currently being re-drafted). 

County officials previously told opponents their hands are tied by the SC Freedom to Farm Act.

Chicken houses produce property tax revenues but, opponents say, very few new jobs. They are not considered industries, eligible to pay a fee in lieu of full property taxes.

Mountville is a community, not a municipality so no local codes apply. It is 10 miles west of Clinton, toward Lake Greenwood.

Opponents have enlisted the help of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project.

Both sets of 8 new barns will hold 33,000 broilers in each barn, making a total number of birds at any time 264,000, and a normal production live weight for each facility of 1,306,800 pounds. Litter is fully cleaned out once a year.

Adam Gaines, PE, of Agri-Waste Technologies, Inc., prepared the plans. No groundwater monitoring wells are planned. A manure broker will handle the 1,610 tons of litter generated each year.

A Crop Management Plan is not applicable in this case (for spreading the manure on farm land) because a manure broker is being used. The applications say, “No part of the facility is located within the 100-year floodplain.” (This factual information comes from two 5-page application summaries.)

The DHEC team said no state regulation requires initial posting of the full application (for 15 business days with signs on Lisbon Road); however, because 20 people responded, some even before the first permit was applied for, they are extending the written comments period to April 30 (comments pro and con can be e-mailed to: