It was the potential smell of bird feces that immediately worried Becky Kleinz after she’d learned early this month that a 40,000-animal duck barn could be built in her Colerain Township neighborhood in southeastern Lancaster County.
She wondered how odor from such a large operation — proposed for land at the intersection of Liberty Lane and Mt. Eden Road — could impact her property value.
“Right away when I heard ‘duck house,’ that set off alarms,” Kleinz said, explaining that her husband, Dennis, once owned property near a poultry farm elsewhere in the county. “When he sold the property, the biggest question by potential purchasers was, ‘What is that smell, and does it smell like this all the time?’”
Kleinz, a Liberty Lane resident, shared that story to highlight just a couple of her concerns as one among dozens of local residents to speak publicly against what could become one of the county’s few industrial-scale duck barns. Also raising concerns are officials at a nearby water authority, who fear the project could threaten environmental and human health.
It’s opposition that Kleinz said she hopes township zoning officials will take into account when making an upcoming decision that could move the barn project closer to being built.
But prospective duck farmer Dwayne Peifer said he feels like those neighbors are threatening his livelihood as he looks to diversify his existing 220-cow dairy operation, which he said has become less profitable in recent years as the industry has struggled through a downturn.
“We are looking to transition,” he said, adding that he wants to ensure his long-standing family farm remains viable. “I want to carry it on to the next generation.”
To do that, Peifer is proposing a duck farming operation that would see a 63-foot-wide by 640-foot-long barn constructed on his property in the 500 block of Mt. Eden Road. There, he would grow ducks as a contractor for Joe Jurgielewicz & Son Ltd., a major duck producer based in neighboring Berks County.
According to Peifer, harvested ducks would mostly be sold for use in high-end restaurants in bigger cities, where demand for them is high.
“They need ducks. They need the meat.” he said, excited about the possibility of new income on his 450 acres, where he now tends dairy cows and grows feed.
Peifer’s project will need approval from the township’s zoning hearing board, which meets next month.
A barn with 40,000 ducks
The full scope of Peifer’s proposed duck farming project is outlined in information shared by officials at Red Barn Consulting in East Hempfield Township, who developed a related site plan.
That plan includes the barn, in which a maximum of 40,000 ducks would be fed, watered and cared for until they reach maturity, according to a written statement from Red Barn officials. A phone message left for a Red Barn official was not returned.
Ducks would be transported to and from the facility monthly by tractor-trailers, and trucks also would make feed deliveries, officials said.
Duck feces would be scraped from the barn floor and moved outside to a concrete manure storage structure, which is expected to be 105 feet wide and 16 feet deep, capable of holding 971,600 gallons, officials said. The ducks are expected to produce 483,000 gallons of manure a year.
“Therefore, the manure storage has greater than twice the holding capacity than manure being generated,” the Red Barn statement reads, revealing that it will be applied as fertilizer on nearby land in the spring and fall.
Ducks that die at the proposed barn likely would be disposed of in an incinerator, according to the statement, though it does not specify exactly where that incinerator will be located.
All of that would be constructed on land that is zoned for agricultural use. And Peifer made sure to highlight that zoning while speaking about his proposal earlier this month.
At that time, Peifer was aware of his neighbors' concerns, but he said they need to come to terms with the fact that they chose to locate their homes within an area designated for farming.
“The thing I tell people is that if we are producing a product for people to eat, there is going to be a smell,” Peifer said. “Animals produce manure. It’s part of the process.”
Mary Dziedzic, who lives on Mt. Eden Road, said she’s well aware of that fact and contested any notion that she is against farming. Still, she opposes Peifer’s plan.
“We would never live here if we were anti-farming,” she said of the area, where nearly every road is lined with cornfields.
“You expect to smell manure. You expect to have the dust floating around when they are harvesting. You expect the sounds of tractors,” Dziedzic continued. “It’s seasonal. It comes and it goes.”
With the proposed duck farm, Dziedzic said she expects year-round smells and sounds, as well as increased tractor-trailer traffic related to deliveries, which she was told would be made in the middle of the night.
“It’s a whole different thing,” she said, characterizing Peifer’s proposal as one that ensures his family prospers, but only at the expense of his neighbor’s quality of life. “The impact on the neighbors and the surrounding community is just devastating. It doesn’t seem fair.”
Federal regulations apply
Because the proposed barn would hold such a large number of ducks, it’s designated a “concentrated animal feeding operation,” which is regulated by officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to its potential to release pollutants.
The designation has elevated the fears of local residents, including Virginia Beards, who lives nearby on Spruce Grove Road. Beards said she believes there will be unintended public health and environmental consequences.
To back those claims, Beards and others have repeatedly pointed to a 30-page report on concentrated animal feeding operations published by officials at the National Association of Local Boards of Health.
The decade-old report highlights possible threats that concentrated feeding operations can pose to both human health and local environments, the majority stemming from the large amount of manure that animals farmed in the facilities produce.
The manure -- mostly when it’s spread on farmland as fertilizer -- has the potential to pollute both ground and surface water with heavy nutrient loads, as well as bacteria and pathogens found in animal feces, according to the report.
Sometimes, that’s due to stormwater runoff that carries pollutants from agricultural operations into nearby waterways, according to the report. Dziedzic made sure to highlight a stretch of Gables Run that flows just east of the proposed duck farming site.
And the potential for water pollution is of significant concern to officials at the Chester Water Authority, specifically due to the authority’s downstream Octoraro Reservoir -- a source of drinking water for its customers in Chester and Delaware counties.
Those concerns were outlined in a letter sent to township zoning officials by authority Chief Operations Officer David J. Krupiak and Facilities Supervisor Christopher Brosey, who worried that protections against pollution -- in both the township’s ordinances and the Peifer project application -- are not thorough enough.
“As many of you know, the Octoraro Reservoir is enjoyed by many local residents and visitors for outdoor activities like fishing, boating and hiking. There is a total lack of accounting in the application for the likelihood of extremely foul odors from this … duck house,” the letter reads before later continuing: “This odor is likely to be severely detrimental to the enjoyment of the Octoraro Reservoir for these uses.”
‘Nobody around here eats ducks’
Those concerns, Dziedzic said, are in addition to others about the impact the operation could have on air quality, which also is highlighted in the National Association of Local Boards of Health report.
“Animal feeding operations produce several types of air emissions, including gaseous and particulate substances, and CAFOs produce even more emissions due to their size,” the report reads, claiming those air pollutants have the potential to cause and exacerbate respiratory illnesses.
After reading all of that, Beards said she believes Peifer’s proposal will benefit his family’s farming legacy at the expense of the larger community. She said she doesn’t understand the tradeoff, especially for such a niche product.
“Nobody around here eats ducks, so why are we supposed to sit around and smell this stuff produced for high-end restaurants hundreds of miles away?” Beards said.
At least 81 Colerain Township residents had signed a petition opposing the proposed duck operation by Tuesday, according to Kleinz, who met that morning with Beards and Dziedzic to discuss the issue at a local park. Opponents also have turned up in large numbers at public meetings to criticize the plan.
Offering a rebuttal, Peifer said earlier this month that he intended to follow all local, state and federal environmental regulations and seek out all required permits. That was before again stressing that the area is already heavily farmed, including with livestock.
In Pennsylvania, landowners can install and operate concentrated animal feeding operations only after receiving permits through the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Throughout Lancaster County, there are 104 locations listed by DEP officials as actively permitted concentrated feeding operations, with many permitted for multiple types of animals.
Among those local operations, only a single duck farmer is listed -- located in Clay Township, in the northern part of the county.
No concentrated feeding operations are in Colerain Township, according to the DEP list.
Zoning exception required
“This is the first that I’ve ever dealt with it,” Scott Shoemaker, chairman of the township’s board of supervisors, said of concentrating animal feeding operations.
In Colerain Township, such operations can be installed only if a special exception is granted by the local zoning hearing board. Peifer has applied for that exception, which is being considered by the board’s members -- Richard Croyle, Lloyd Kreider and Bob Stanley.
They are expected to make a decision on whether to approve the exception at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9, at the Colerain Township Municipal Building at 1803 Kirkwood Pike, Kirkwood. A majority of “yes” votes would move the project closer to construction, though additional approvals may later be needed, Shoemaker said.
At a Wednesday meeting, township supervisors -- Shoemaker, as well as Robin Church and Samuel Reinhart -- heard more than an hour’s worth of complaints about the proposal from local residents in attendance.
They included comments from residents speculating that Peifer and his representatives might have submitted incorrectly when applying for the exception. Citing those concerns, supervisors initially recommended that zoning hearing board members deny Peifer’s request.
However, Shoemaker said Friday that the recommendation is not likely to last.
That’s because township solicitor Eric Frey reviewed concerns about the application and it seems no errors were made, Shoemaker said.
On Thursday, the zoning hearing board’s attorney, Thomas L. Goodman, would not discuss the claim.
“I was not there, I don’t know what was said and I have no comment,” Goodman said.
He also refused to discuss any other details related to the proposed special exception.