Group opposed to hog operation sues Cooper County

A proposed hog operation in Cooper County that would house more than 1,250 pigs is at the heart of a lawsuit over Sunshine Law compliance.

A group of neighbors in southeast Cooper County have filed suit against the county commission for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law in regards to meetings and documents concerning a large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation proposed for the area, near Clarksburg.

The lawsuit was filed by Opponents of Cooper County CAFO's (OCCC), a group of residents who live near the site of the proposed hog farm.

The CAFO, proposed by PVC Management, LLC, and to be known as Tipton East, would house more than 5,700 sows and 640 nursery pigs. It would also include a large above-ground facility for composting hog carcasses for fertilizer.

The lawsuit contains four allegations of Sunshine Law violations. The first was that notice was not provided about a meeting held regarding the CAFO, which included a tour of the site and was attended by all three Cooper County commissioners. According to the Sunshine Law, notice of meetings involving public governmental bodies must be posted 24 hours in advance.

The lawsuit also claims that the county refused to comply with a Sunshine Law request for documents unless a check for $350 was received in advance. According to the opposition group's lawyer, Stephen Jeffery, the county cannot charge for retrieving and copying documents in advance.

Third, the suit alleges that the county commission is knowingly and purposely violating the Sunshine Law by refusing to provide Opponents of Cooper County CAFO's requested records including emails between commissioners. The suit quotes the Cooper County Clerk as saying "The county disclaims any obligation or requirement under the Sunshine Law to search, retrieve, and copy such records."

And lastly, the lawsuit accuses the county of refusing to provide a waiver of fees based on the false assumption that OCCC has a commercial interest at stake, an assumption denied by Jeffery. "We felt we were being stonewalled," he said.

Cooper County Commissioner David Booker said the county is in full compliance with Sunshine. He says, for instance, that the issue of paying in advance is not an issue. "They need to pay for this stuff before they retrieve it. The ball is in their court." Booker says he will not even discuss the possible health effects of the CAFO. "On advice of counsel, we are not going to discuss a health ordinance. Cooper County is a right to farm county. The health issue is all speculation."

Each of the four counts of OCCC's lawsuit seeks the maximum $5,000 penalty for Sunshine Law violations.

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