County eyes air quality rule change

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Linda Butler says she and her neighbors in rural Tonopah have a smelly problem. They say it is the giant Hickman’s Egg Ranch that moved in nearby.

“It’s a nauseating smell,” said Butler.

She claims the egg ranch, which moved into their community a few years ago, is driving away residents and customers and affecting business.

Butler says she and others have complained to the county hundreds of times, but have received no relief.

“They just log them and go on with their business,” said Butler.

Maricopa County inspectors do investigate complaints of foul odors. There’s even an air quality rule, number 320, which governs odors and gaseous air contaminants, but that rule is about to undergo some big changes.

“Basically, they’re gutting the rule,” said Dan Blackson.

Blackson attended the first meeting, when county officials said they wanted to remove the words, “Odors and gaseous air contaminants” from its regulation. He worries the change affect people’s ability to complain about smelly feedlots, landfills, sewage plants and chicken farms.

“Smelly businesses. Yes, they will get a pass,” said Blackson.

But the head of the county’s air quality department disagrees.

“Taking the word odor out of rule 320 doesn’t change our authority,” said Philip McNeely, who is the director of the department.

He says that despite what it says in the of Rule 320, it’s never been realistic to regulate odors themselves.

“It would be a matter of opinion and that’s the problem with odor,” said McNeely.

He says that under the revised rules, inspectors will try to find out what chemical is causing a particular smell, and if it’s listed as a regulated chemical, the county will take action.

But that approach leaves a big loophole. At Hickman’s egg ranch inspectors haven’t figured out what chemicals are causing the smell. It could be ammonia.

“We don’t regulate ammonia.. is part of the issue,” said McNeely.

People who live near the egg ranch interpret the old rule as requiring the county to go after foul smelling businesses, no matter what chemical is causing it. And they say the new rule changes are just watering down what should be a powerful tool in the fight against smelly businesses.

“The result will be we’ll just have to live with the odors and there won’t be any recourse to try to get that situation corrected,” said Blackson.

County Supervisor Clint Hickman’s family owns Hickman’s Egg Ranch. County officials told CBS 5 Investigates that Hickman played no role in revising the air quality rules and will not vote on the new rules when they come before the board.

Hickman’s Family Farms say their operation in Tonopah is state of the art and that they take odor complaints seriously. You can read our previous investigation into Hickman's Egg Ranch here.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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