‘It’s almost like we’re living in a prison’: Loraine couple, Illinois EPA file lawsuits against northern Adams County hog confinement

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Crystal and Randy Clair stand in front of their home outside Loraine. To the east of the trees in the background is County Line Swine, a 5,000-hog confinement that is 2,280 feet away from the Clair home. | David Adam

LORAINE, Ill. — Two civil suits filed in Adams County Circuit Court claim County Line Swine, Inc., a 5,000-hog confinement in northern Adams County, and Carroll Family Farms, LLC, of Carthage, which owns the swine and provides feed for the facility, are operating the hog confinement with improper methods that have harmful impacts on local farmers, landowners and residents.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed one suit at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Originally filed Jan. 31 and amended March 3, the suit details 72 formal complaints from four property owners who live within 1.5 miles of County Line Swine at 1832 N. 2700th Avenue in Loraine. They claimed a nuisance from livestock odors emanating from the hog confinement when it opened Aug. 1, 2019. The property owners reported experiencing nausea, headaches, eye irritation and respiratory irritation.

“The odors deprived the complainants of the use and enjoyment of their homes and limited their ability to work outside on their properties due to human health impacts,” the suit read.

A second suit was filed by Crystal and Randy Clair, whose home is 2,280 feet from County Line Swine, and Shawn Peters, who owns a 65-acre parcel of land across the street from the facility. It originally was filed Dec. 2 and amended April 14.

Clairs also part of Illinois EPA lawsuit

Peters and the Clairs claim County Line Swine is “negligently and/or improperly operated, managed and maintained because the defendants intentionally and/or negligently fail to follow appropriate operating procedures, including some that are required under relevant Illinois law, which dictate, amongst other things:

  • Proper handling and storage of animal manure and urine;
  • Proper disposal of dead (and possible diseased) swine; and
  • Proper maintenance and operation of the (hog confinement) and the land application equipment.

“The defendants’ failure to follow appropriate operating procedures subjects the plaintiffs to frequent additional odor, particulate matter, discharges of hog manure and urine, other emissions, flies, insects and/or other pests.”

The Clairs say they also are one of the four unnamed property owners in the Illinois EPA suit.

Illinois EPA inspectors visited the facility on May 26, 2020. They discovered two uncovered manure stacks on the County Line Swine property. The EPA issued a violation notice on July 17, 2020, citing violations for discharge of contaminants, deposit of contaminants and livestock and waste handling violations.

Illinois EPA inspectors made another visit on July 30, 2020, in response to citizen complaints. They issued a second violation notice on Sept. 10, 2020. Investigators observed livestock waste odor and mortality compost odor from dead swine. They discovered a discharge of runoff from a cattle feedlot into a tributary of Thurman Creek, and no waste handling structures were observed. They observed livestock odor along Ill. 61 at distances as far as 1.2 miles from the facility.

The exterior of County Line Swine at 1832 N. 2700th Avenue. | David Adam

One count in lawsuit from Clairs against Peter for ‘intentional infliction of emotional distress’

The Illinois EPA suit has two counts — air pollution and failure to practice adequate odor control. 

The suit from Peters and the Clairs has two counts against County Line Swine and Carroll Family Farms — for private nuisance and negligence. It has one count from Peters and the Clairs against Ragan Peter called “piercing the corporate veil,” which is when courts put aside limited liability and hold a corporation’s shareholders or directors personally liable for a corporation’s actions.

A fourth count is from the Clairs against Peter for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Ragan Peter is the president, secretary and sole officer of County Line Swine, which the Illinois Department of Agriculture approved on Dec. 24, 2018. Peter referred any comment about the civil suit to Jennifer Martin, an attorney with HeplerBroom out of Springfield, Ill.

“County Line Swine uses its best efforts to operate the facility in accordance with Illinois regulatory standards and industry best practices,” Martin wrote in an email. “It cooperates with the Department of Agriculture and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency if any complaints are made. County Line Swine disputes the allegations in the complaint and will defend the lawsuit.”

Representatives from Carroll Family Farms did not respond to a request for an interview.

The Illinois EPA suit refers to section 9(a) the Illinois Environmental Protection Act. It says no person shall cause or threaten or allow the discharge of emission of any contaminant into the environment in any state to cause air pollution in Illinois.

Peters hoped to build ‘dream home’ on property across from hog confinement

The Illinois EPA is asking for each defendant to be assessed a civil penalty not to exceed $50,000 for each violation of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act, along with an additional penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each day of violation. 

It also asks for County Line Swine to undertake immediate and necessary corrective action that will cause a final and permanent abatement of violations of section 9(a), including hiring a professional engineering consultant to design and implement adequate odor control methods and technology at the facility and using a rendering service for the disposal of dead swine.

The suit from Peters and the Clairs doesn’t ask for a specific amount of money. Instead, it requests for the defendant in each count to “be found personally liable and to compensate the plaintiffs for damages as a result of the defendants’ acts and omissions.”

The suit says Peters bought his land in 2013 intending to build a “dream home” on the property for himself, his wife and their children. He regularly made visits on weekends and during holidays to hike, fish and hunt on the land. After County Line Swine began operating, family members and friends told Peters the odors and air quality on his land were unbearable.

As a result, the suit claims Peters has abandoned his plans to build his home on the property.

Shawn Peters declined an interview request for this story.

A line of trees separate the Randy and Crystal Clair property, left, and County Line Swine. | Map courtesy of Google Earth

‘We want to enjoy our property just like you enjoy your property’

Crystal Clair simply wants her old life back in the home bought in 1973.

“It’s almost like we’re living in a prison,” she said. “We can only go out and do what we want to do on the days the wind is in our favor, but we also know the other neighbors are getting it. When the wind is from the east, and it’s hot and humid here, you might as well plan on spending the day in the house. 

“We want the smell to stop so the people in our neighborhood can be outside, so we can farm in peace, so we can just enjoy our property and go back to what it used to be. We want to open our windows on days that we should be able to open our windows. I’m not going to discuss dollar amounts with you. We want to enjoy our property just like you enjoy your property.”

Quincy attorney Gerald Timmerwilke and John Kotsatos from Easton, Pa., who has handled environmental nuisance cases for 14 years, represent the Clairs.

“I’ve done this long enough that I have not seen such a bad actor in (Peter) and what he’s done to create chaos to his direct line neighbors,” Kotsatos said. “We’re dealing with somebody who just, quite frankly, doesn’t care about using farming practices correctly and doesn’t care about his neighbors.

“This is the worst I’ve seen from a bad neighbor. One hundred percent.”

Crystal Clair describes threatening conversation with Peter

Crystal Clair also believes Peter has threatened her.

She said Peter told her during a phone call in May 2018 if the Clairs didn’t want the hog confinement, “he wasn’t going to put it up.” She also said she received an email from Kent Kraft, who managed nearby farmland owned by the Pinacle Corporation. He said Peter had made a bid to buy the land intending to build a hog confinement on it.

Crystal said her husband was planting on farmland west of Ursa and couldn’t get back to the house on the day Peter wanted to meet. Nonetheless, Peter showed up at the Clair house.

“I asked him not to, but you could just tell from the tone of his voice,” Crystal said. “I called a neighbor to come and so I would not be here alone. 

“So I asked Ragan, ‘Which one of you is lying to me?’ In the meantime, Mr. Kraft called me while I was talking to Ragan. I held the phone out and said, ‘Which one of you is lying?’ Excuse my language, but it pissed Ragan off. He said to me, ‘If you continue to give me any trouble, your life and your livelihood will never be the same, because I’m going to bring the biggest and baddest pigs I can find.’

“I know what he said, because I stood right there at the (kitchen) counter, and I wrote it down.”

Crystal said she contacted local law enforcement to have to a cease-and-desist order filed against Peter. She says he can’t communicate with the Clairs nor step on their property.

Litigation expected to last ‘at least two or three years’

She said her grandkids can’t jump on their trampoline or swim in the lake on their property. She has tended an organic garden for 20 years. Now she is afraid to grow kale, lettuce, spinach or any above-ground leaf vegetable. She doesn’t know what kind of waste will land on it.

“I’m not trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes,” she said. “There are some days, it (stinks) all day long. There are some days it’s in the morning, and then some days, it comes back in the afternoon. The evening time is the worst.”

Crystal says attorneys have told her to expect litigation to last “at least two or three years.”

“I don’t think (Peter) can afford for us to make it two or three more years. Things just will keep piling up and piling up and piling up,” she said. “How do you put a price on somebody’s psyche? How do you put a price on mental health?”

Clairs refuse Peter’s offer to buy home, property

Peter tried to put a price on the Clair home. He sent the couple a letter on Jan. 25, offering to buy the home, the buildings and the 80-acre property, plus $10,000 for moving expenses. (The Clairs redacted the figure in a copy of the letter given to Muddy River News.) The 60-day offer expired with no acceptance from the Clairs.

“Our home is not for sale,” Crystal said.

The Clairs say they have two choices — stay and fight, or pack up and run.

“We’re going to do what’s right,” Crystal said. “Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you love, what your passion is. I love God, I love Randy, I love my family, I love this farm, I love farming, I love growing things, and I love my chickens. (Peter) doesn’t have the right to stop any of that. He doesn’t have the right to force us to move.

“This is what we’ve chosen to do. We’ve chosen to stand up and fight.”

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