Ayr Township is a small rural community in Fulton County, two hours northwest of Washington and just over the border into Pennsylvania. It’s the kind of place where a shop owner will let his customers come back to pay for merchandise and where residents can shake hands on a $15,000 loan.
For 30 years, Washington dentists David Keil and Harry Galblum owned a 224-acre farm in the community. In retirement, they donated the land to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. The subsequent buyer, Country View Family Farms, is now locked in a legal battle with a group of township residents.
At issue is a facility to house 8,722 hogs that Country View, a Lancaster, Pa.-based hog procurement and production company and a subsidiary of the Clemens Family Corporation, wants to construct in Ayr.
The Ayr residents opposing Country View’s facility say runoff from the hogs’ manure and the gases the animals produce will find their way into nearby streams and contaminate the water.
To prepare the land for construction, Country View plans to cut 30 to 40 feet off parts of the hillside and fill in other areas, according to Bill Fink, an environmental management specialist who spoke on behalf of Clemens.
Country View is “converting what is now a pristine natural area into an industrial zone,” said Jordan Yeager, an attorney who represents the Ayr Township residents. “They are talking about massive industrialization of a sensitive rural area that the people who live there depend on for their water supply.”
But Fink disputed the description of the facility as “industrial.”
“It’s a farm that we’re proposing to build on an existing farm,” he said.
Fink said the hog farm will have a positive economic impact on the township.
“This farm will bring 18 to 20 jobs to Ayr Township,” he said. “We’ll also buy material from local stores and businesses. We believe this facility will be a benefit to the agricultural community in Fulton County.”
Ayr residents Marjorie Hudson, Lorne Swope, David Lippert and Delores Steiner disagree. Last summer, they appealed Country View’s storm water management permit to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board.
“Whenever you are disturbing a large area of land, you need to have engineered plans to demonstrate how your proposal won’t have an adverse impact on water resources, during and after construction,” said Yeager. “What they are proposing [is] wholly inadequate to protect the water resources there.”
The residents also filed a petition seeking a court order to halt the facility’s construction and operation until the appeal is settled. Last August, the Environmental Hearing Board granted the stay of construction.
Fink said Clemens is reviewing the board’s concerns and will either modify its designs or present evidence on why the company’s initial plans passed muster pending further studies.
Both sides expect the appeals process to resume in the fall.
A change of hands
For more than 30 years, the land on which Country View is building its hog farm was owned by Keil and Galblum. According to Galblum’s daughter, Jane Haigh, both men were well-known members of Ayr Township, often leasing their land to the other farmers.
Unable to continue maintaining the farm or striking a deal with their Ayr neighbors, and with neither man’s children interested in inheriting it, the men donated the land to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
The Federation is not in the real estate business, and it sought to quickly dispose of the land, said Steve Rakitt, CEO of the Federation.
“The United Jewish Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington received a partial interest in the property as a gift and sold its interest in the property as soon as possible, according to its policy and procedures,” he said.
Courthouse transaction records published by the Fulton County News show that on May 5, 2014, Galblum, Keil and the Federation’s United Jewish Endowment Fund sold the property for $700,000 to MWM LLC, a farm-development company that Fink said planned to build a facility on the Ayr Township farm and lease it to Country View.
Nine days later, on May 14, MWM sold the land, also for $700,000, to CFC Fulton Properties LLC, which is owned by the Clemens Development Group, the real estate branch of Clemens.
While both sides wait for the appeals process to resume, another Ayr farmer with Washington connections, Mike Tabor of Takoma Park, is planning a benefit concert in Hancock, Md., at the end of August to help pay for legal costs.
Haigh said she sympathizes with Ayr’s residents.
“I just find the situation really difficult,” she said. “I do agree with the neighbors that the pig farm is appalling.”
“It’s a misnomer to call it a farm,” said Yeager. “It’s a hog factory.”