An eastern Indiana ministry that operates a children's camp has sued local zoning officials, warning that a planned 1,400-cow dairy farm they approved for a nearby site will ruin the summer camp experience due to odors, dust and manure runoff.
The House of Prayer Ministries Inc.'s recently filed lawsuit contends the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals violated the ministry's constitutional rights and local zoning rules when it approved a special exception for Milco Dairy Farms LLC's proposed dairy farm in April. It would be built within a half-mile of the ministry's Harvest Christian Camp and upwind of its 36-acre property near Lewisville in adjacent Henry County, about 35 miles east of Indianapolis.
The farm would jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of children, ages 4 to 17, who attend its daily and overnight summer camping programs and other events, said Kim Ferraro, an attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council, which filed the suit on the ministry's behalf.
"The camp's very existence is at stake," she said. "Parents of young children are not going to want to send their kids to this camp with that sort of operation so close by."
Bryant Niehoff, the executive director of the Rushville/Rush County Joint Planning and Zoning Office, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The zoning board's attorney did not return messages seeking comment.
Todd Janzen, an attorney for Milco Dairy Farms, said the farm will be constructed in compliance with the state's "most stringent requirements."
Indiana has nearly 1,800 confined feeding operations that raise hundreds or thousands of animals in close quarters. More than 740 of those are the largest category of such farms, like the proposed dairy farm, known as concentrated animal feeding operations.
The suit, filed May 16, contends the zoning approval violates the camp's constitutionally protected rights to free exercise of religion, equal protection and due process. It also argues that the board should have provided the youth camp with the same one-mile setback protection that a county ordinance requires for schools from big livestock farms.
"Children are children no matter where they are," Ferraro said.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved a permit in November for the dairy farm; Ferraro is also challenging that before a state administrative law judge.
The farm will produce about 19,000 gallons of feces and urine daily — about seven times the daily volume of human waste that the nearby city of Rushville produces, the suit says. Three outdoor lagoons will collect that waste, which will be periodically spread on surrounding farmland as fertilizer, which the suit alleges could enter a stream that runs through the camp's grounds and expose children to pathogens.
Ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and particulate matter produced by the farm would be carried into the camp by winds and worsen asthma in children or spark asthma attacks, according to Indra Frank, a physician who's the Hoosier Environmental Council's public health expert.
Pastor David Todd said thousands of parents from several states have sent their children to the camp, which opened in 1984 and includes 13 open-air cabins. He said the farm "will destroy the outdoor experiences for children that are central to Harvest Christian Camp's 30-year mission."
The lawsuit is the second in recent years filed by an Indiana youth camp over a livestock farm.
Northwestern Indiana's YMCA Camp Tecumseh sued White County in 2013 over its zoning approval for a 9,000-hog farm at a site about 800 yards from its camp. That suit is still pending.