By John Milner, MPA Counsel – Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, PLLC
The Mississippi Poultry Association and the Mississippi Farm Bureau federation on September 23, 2021 won their case against the Monroe County Board of Supervisors (Board) over the Board’s 2017 ordinance that essentially doubled the Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulatory setbacks for poultry farms from certain property boundaries. These CEQ regulations are administered by the staff of the MS Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
MPA and Farm Bureau challenged the Board decision in the Monroe County Circuit Court. The case was first heard in 2018 by the late Judge Jim Roberts. After his death, the appeal has been dormant on the court’s docket until it was set for oral argument before newly appointed Circuit Judge Chip Mills on September 23.
The Board adopted setbacks for poultry farms of 1200 feet for neighboring residences and 300 feet from the property line after residents in the Hamilton area objected to a planned broiler farm. Monroe County was the only county with setbacks greater than the CEQ regulatory limits because in 2018, MPA and Farm Bureau were successful in getting a bill passed in the Mississippi Legislature to prevent cities and counties from going beyond regulatory limits.
The key provision of the 2018 legislative bill, House Bill 1122, specifically stated as follows:
No governing authority of any municipality or of any county shall adopt or impose any ordinance, regulation, rule or policy that prohibits or restricts agricultural operation, forestry activity or traditional farm practices on agricultural land or land that is otherwise unclassified if the land is used for an agricultural operation, forestry activity or traditional farm practices. Additionally, if the activities being conducted on the land are regulated by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce or the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the provisions of those agencies’ statutes or the regulations promulgated by those agencies shall govern.
House bill 1122 Section 2 (a), 2018 Session, Mississippi Legislature (as approved by Governor).
Monroe County was exempted from the 2018 law because the lawsuit over the county’s ordinance was in court at the time the law took effect. MPA and Farm Bureau decided to continue to pursue the case after the law passed.
In court briefs, Monroe County took the position in the oral argument that the MPA and Farm Bureau did not have the standing to sue. Sheldon Alston, with Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, representing MPA and Farm Bureau, argued that (1) the Board’s ordinance was arbitrary and capricious, (2) improperly pre-empted CEQ’s regulatory authority and (3) was also improper because it was an illegal “spot zoning” and therefore invalid since Monroe County has no county-wide zoning plan.
After the oral arguments by the lawyers, Judge Mills decided:
- MPA and Farm Bureau did have standing to appeal the board’s decision;
- The Board members who held a public hearing and conducted research in 2017 were not arbitrary and capricious in the adoption of the ordinance;
- The Supervisors did not pre-empt CEQ’s authority by adopting greater setbacks, but finally,
- The ordinance was a land use restriction and because Monroe County does not have a county-wide zoning plan, the ordinance is void and unenforceable.
The decision brings Monroe County in line with the other 81 counties and 300 municipalities which are prohibited by the 2018 legislation from developing their own environmental regulations on agriculture in place the CEQ regulations implemented by MDEQ staff. The ruling is a significant victory for the poultry industry since it confirms that only the CEQ can promulgate environmental restrictions and requirements for poultry farms or other facilities.
If you have any questions concerning this article, feel free to contact John Milner, MPA Counsel, at email@example.com or (601) 960-6842.
Article from Emerging Trends: A Newsletter of the Mississippi Poultry Association