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Neighbors think hog farm stinks

For weeks, Robert Bradley has watched from his front yard as workers clear off part of a 20-acre tract next door.

Not much as changed in this time-worn neighborhood off Old Tallahassee Road in recent years, so Bradley and others were curious about what his new neighbors had in mind for the site between the Crystal River Oaks and Indian Woods subdivisions.

When he finally learned of his neighbor's plans, Bradley's initial reaction was: This stinks.

The owner, Harold W. Artille of Pinellas Park, plans to start a hog farm, with up to a dozen pens for sows and pigs. Bradley and others in the area fear the farm will be nothing but trouble, with animal waste tainting the drinking water and attracting clouds of flies.

Then, there's the smell.

"With one or two hogs, you can bear the smell," Bradley said. "But with a hog farm, you have the smell of hog s--- constantly.

"If I ever wanted to sell my home, do you think anyone who came out here and smelled that would want to buy it?"

Bradley has complained to the county about the hog farm. But county Environmental Planner Gary Maidhof said there is not much Bradley or any resident concerned about the hog farm can do at this point.

The property is zoned "low-intensity coastal lake," and thus is eligible for any agricultural use as long as the farm is set at least 100 feet off property lines.

"Agriculture is agriculture, according to the land development codes," Maidhof said. "I can sympathize that he's concerned about the area, but sympathies can't come into play when reviewing permits."

Maidhof said that Artille told him the hog farm was going to start with six pens and then expand to 12. Typically, a sow is placed in each pen. Once the pigs grow to a certain weight, they are sold commercially. The pigs will not be slaughtered on the site.

In May, the county issued permits to Artille to build pole barns, hog shelters, an aluminum shed and driveway. Neighbors say a trailer of portable feeders and other equipment was moved onto the property a short time later.

Maidhof said the county has received complaints about the farm, but generally there have been more phone calls from people curious about what was happening on the property.

The odor, which Bradley predicted will be detectable on some days as far away as Seven Rivers Community Hospital and residential areas within a mile of the farm, can be controlled, one agriculture official said.

William Hill, an agriculture extension agent in charge of swine problems for Hernando and Sumter counties, said farmers can limit the odor hogs produce by how they feed and shelter the animals.

For example, Hill said, a hog farm near Dunnellon has concrete slabs and a drain. The waste goes into an underground tank and is pumped onto pastures as fertilizer.

"If you drove by there, you would never know it was a hog farm," Hill said. "I raised hogs for three or four years, and my neighbors never knew until one got loose.

"It takes a lot of good management."

But what type of management Artille has in mind is unclear.

Artille spoke briefly by phone from his Pinellas County home Thursday, but he cut short the conversation without answering many questions about the farm.

He said he bought the 20 acres with the intention of putting a home on the site, but when a deal to buy a house fell through, he started building the farm.

Artille said he might reconsider the venture and was not sure what he would do with the land. He said he had a couple of friends working on the site but did not know what they were doing.