Last Thursday, the state Senate gave second reading, voice-vote approval to a bill that would prohibit counties from regulating poultry farms within county limits.

As of The Eye’s press time, third reading approval had not yet been given, but opposition was unexpected. From the Senate, the bill would proceed to the S.C. House, whose membership has been historically friendlier to Corporate America than its across-the-hall colleagues.

Currently, there are 13 county ordinances across the state regulating the operation/placement of poultry farms near neighborhoods. These come primarily in the form of zoning law setback requirements.

Should the bill pass the House this week and be signed by Gov. Mark Sanford, then only the Department of Health and Environmental Control would supervise industrial poultry farms outside of municipal limits.

What The Eye, and other Statehouse gawkers, found disquieting about the bill was that the Senate typically shies away from any legislation that subverts local government oversight powers.

Then again, South Carolina has an $800-million-a-year poultry industry.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, poultry farms make up three of the state’s top-10 cash crops, with 426 broiler farms coming in first, 331 turkey farms at number three, and the 1,107 egg-laying farms rounding out the end at number nine.

That’s a whole lotta birds, observed The Eye, with their attendant collateral damage.

Poultry farms generate tons of noxious waste that have to go somewhere (usually waste containment ponds) and waste runoff has been known to leach into local waterways, causing algae blooms and fishkills, which also stink.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Danny Verdin (R-Laurens), who argued that the extra regulations from the counties “have caused a crisis in the agricultural community.”

The Eye was curious as to how $800 million in annual revenue could be considered “in crisis”, but The Eye digresses.

Verdin told the Associated Press, “I think it’s unfortunate that certain subdivisions of state government — certain local subdivisions — enacted aggressive, more restrictive ordinances than state DHEC regulations … several counties enacted ordinances that were so stringent, that were so restrictive, that it forced the issue here this year.”

He then went with this extensive hyberbole: “[T]hey were burdensome. They were intolerant, especially of the poultry industry.”

Oh, mused The Eye, so this is all about “discrimination” … well, get used to it, there’s a long history of that in South Carolina.

Verdin was aided in his cause by the S.C. Farm Bureau and the S.C. Poultry Federation.

Farm Bureau lobbyist Gary Spire told the AP that people move to the country attracted to the “open spaces, pretty fields and wildlife … When they get out there, they don’t like the agriculture that’s going on.”

Maybe, thought The Eye, but perhaps they just don’t want a 5,000-plus bird operation moving in next door with its piles (and piles and piles) of poop.

Some Senators tried to stop the bill.

Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) told The State, “We call this the ‘Right-To-Farm’ bill … it has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with usurping local government. It’s a liberal power grab by the people in Columbia.”

Although the second reading approval was a voice vote, several senators — such as Leventis, Chip Campsen (R-Chas.), Wes Hayes (R-York), John Courson (R-Richland), Joel Lourie (D-Richland), and John Matthews (D-Orangeburg) — wanted their objections officially noted in the proceedings.

Agribusinesses have been trying for the last 13 years to undo county control over their operations, usually by fighting the strict controls counties have over industrial hog farms.

Hog farm restrictions are unaffected by the bill — thank goodness for small favors.

Russell Shetterly of the S.C. Association of Counties told the AP, “The downside to this, as I see it, is that what we have done is bypass the local land-use planning and moved it to Columbia. This reduces the ability of local governments to react.”

But not simultaneously reducing the ability of the noses of local government to react, noted The Eye.

All The Eye knows is that, having visited industrial agriculture facilities in the past — especially those involving animal husbandry — The Eye sure as hell wouldn’t want one anywhere near its residence.

Y’all remember the pictures of eastern North Carolina’s waterways clogged with thousands of carcasses of hogs, chickens and turkeys in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd?

Those pictures are what may have stopped massive hog farms from moving into McCormick County a few years ago.

And, might The Eye throw out two little words with huge implications?

Bird flu, y’all … it’s on its way here.

All fun aside, the essential point remains that the local nose can identify and deal with a stinky situation more quickly than in the time it would take for that odor to waft its way up to Columbia.

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