DUNBARTON — Abutters had a chance to voice their concerns over a proposed egg production farm on Twist Hill Road, but more questions were raised about water quality, nitrate levels and what would happen if the farmer defaulted on his contract.
About 100 people turned out for the Oct. 16 Planning Board meeting, with most people speaking against the plan. Some local farmers, who would be interested in buying the fertilizer produced by the hens, spoke in favor of the plan.
The focus of the meeting was to gain residents’ input; the site review and possible approval will continue at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting.
Tom Giovagnoli, of 57 Twist Hill Road, is seeking approval to build a 27,000-square-foot barn for 20,000 egg-laying chickens on his property. Giovagnoli spoke very little about the plan, leaving the presentation to his engineer, Jen McCourt; attorney John Cronin; UNH professor and agricultural specialist John Porter; and Karl Johnson, product manager for Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs in Monroe.
Although Giovagnoli is seeking town approval, he does not yet have a contract with Pete & Gerry’s to supply eggs to the company.
If approved, Giovagnoli would be among the 30-plus contract farmers in New Hampshire who house 20,000 laying hens in a specially designed barns and operate under Pete & Gerry’s rules and standards, Johnson said. The company would oversee food safety, egg production, manure handling, insect and rodent control, water and waste management, and would have full access to Giovagnoli’s farm for inspections, he said. The hens would be raised free-range and organic-certified.
“Happy chickens lay better eggs,” Johnson said. “We want our family farms to be good neighbors. Our reputation rests on our contract farmers.”
But abutters are not convinced that approving an egg-production farm in their neighborhood is right for the town of Dunbarton.
Abutter Merle Chapman opened his statement by telling Pete & Gerry’s representatives that they are not welcome and questioned the widening of the road’s access to the farm and land contours. He was told that although the hens would be housed inside the barn, Giovagnoli may have plans in the future to allow the hens to roam outside.
Abutters Robert and Meegan Dufresne, who have two wells on their property, are concerned about water quantity and quality, and also have reservations that if Giovagnoli defaults on the contract, what would be the town’s role. Planning Board Co-chairman Ken Swayze said limits of no more than 20,000 hens will be placed on the property. However, Gerry Laflamme, owner of Pete & Gerry, said the company will be well-invested in the farm and “terminating contracts is very unlikely,” as the company works in partnership with its contract farmers.
Janice Vandebogart, another abutter, said this plan is out of character for the town, and through the years the town has grown from very rural to residential and there are now 122 homes surrounding the property.
“We have assets that will be jeopardized if this plan is approved,” she said.
She questioned Giovagnoli’s integrity referring to a violation of zoning ordinances in renting an apartment and an installing an illegal septic system on his property. Although these two issues have been addressed, she said, how can the residents be assured violations such as these will not take place in the future?
Odors and insects on manure pits were also addressed by selectmen representative Leslie Hammond and planning board member Michael Guiney, who made an impromptu visit to the Pete & Gerry’s site in Monroe in the spring.
“We stood out in the parking lot for a while and couldn’t smell anything,” said Hammond. “Small bugs were on the manure 50 feet away, they weren’t bothering you. They didn’t bite. The insects were interested in the manure.”
Abutter Anthony Pino refuted their claims as he, too, has visited Monroe. Like many abutters his concern is for the health and safety of his family, his home value and quality of life.
Pino said Monroe has installed a nitrate filtration system, and a filtration for homes could cost owners about $10,000.
“A half a mile from the site was horrifying. The smell was nauseating and vile,” he said. “What will Dunbarton smell like on a hot summer day?”
He also said he has spoken to residents and a store owner who said manure is being dropped from trucks into the road and tracked into stores, hawks and coyotes are visible in the area and chicken carcasses are being dumped into the woods.
“If the planning board approves this plan, the problems of Monroe will visit upon Dunbarton,” Pino said.