House of Prayer Ministries, Inc., a non-profit religious organization has, for more than 30 years, operates a youth camp known as Harvest Christian Camp in Lewisville, Indiana. The Camp offers a day camp program for young children 4-7 years of age and several multi-day and week-long overnight programs for children and teens over 8 years old. These programs engage children in numerous outdoor and educational activities such as archery, swimming, games, sports, go-carts, a giant slip and slide, paint ball, campfires, night services, bible classes and creative workshops in music, drama, dance, arts and crafts, sign language, cooking and photography. Thousands of parents across Indiana and out-of-state have sent their children to Harvest Christian Camp over the years because it offers a safe and healthy rural setting for their children to be educated, to be enhanced by nature and the outdoors, and to enrich their spiritual life.
Unfortunately, the youth camp’s very existence is now at risk because the owners of Milco Dairy Farm, LLC have obtained regulatory and zoning approvals from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals to build a factory farm with 1,400 dairy cows along with three, massive outdoor waste lagoons within a half mile and upwind of Harvest Christian Camp. The CAFO’s 1,400 cows produce approximately 20,000 gallons of feces and urine per day which is as much bodily waste as produced by 47,000 people — an amount that is 8 times the amount of urine and feces produced every day by the entire town of Rushville. The difference is that Rushville is not allowed to store human waste in unlined, open-air lagoons. Of particular concern, the children, staff and volunteers at Harvest Christian Camp are outdoors most of the day and sleep in open-air cabins and will be heavily exposed to the CAFO’s noxious odors and air pollutants which are known to pose serious health threats. The CAFO will also expose children to disease causing bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella, which can run off with manure into Shankatank Creek — a creek which runs right through Harvest Christian Camp.
The CAFO approved by IDEM and the Rush County BZA will destroy the outdoor nature experiences for children that are central to Harvest Christian Camp’s mission and will threaten the Camp’s ability to protect the health, safety and well-being of the hundreds of children that are annually entrusted to its care. Accordingly, HEC brought a lawsuit against the Rush County BZA for failing to provide Harvest Christian Camp with the same one-mile setback protection from a CAFO that the county ordinance requires for a similarly situated school, and for violating Harvest Christian Camp’s constitutionally protected rights to free exercise of religion, equal protection and due process. In addition, HEC brought an administrative appeal on the Camp’s behalf, challenging the IDEM issued permit because the owners of the proposed CAFO failed to identify all responsible parties and the nature and extent of its troublesome environmental record in violation of Indiana’s “bad character” disclosure requirements for CFO permit applicants, among other allegations.
Unfortunately, after taking the judicial review challenge of the BZA’s zoning approval all the way to the Indiana Court of Appeals, we were unable to stop construction of the CAFO. We were also unable to convince the Office of Environmental Adjudication (“OEA”) to overturn IDEM’s permit (which was not unexpected given that the OEA has never overturned an IDEM-issued CAFO permit). Remarkably, despite clear evidence of the significant harm the CAFO would inflict on young children at the summer camp, the appellate court and the OEA both ruled against House of Prayer finding that the CAFO was in compliance with applicable law. In other words, something is wrong with the law. For this reason, HEC has made reforming existing regulation of CAFOs one of its top priorities. We hope you’ll help us.