Last updated: June 12. 2014 11:16PM - 3258 Views
By Tom Huntington Times Leader Correspondent

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BERWICK —Salem Township residents were told Thursday night the impact of a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) at Will-O-Bett farms could result in a depreciation of 30 to 50 percent in the value of their real estate.

These comments were made by attorney Franklin Kepner Jr., counsel for a group of citizens who have filed a lawsuit in Luzerne County Court opposing a CAFO of nearly 5,000 pigs established by Paul Dagostin at 137 Bomboy Lane, Salem Township. Kepner was speaking at a public meeting at the Berwick Middle School that attracted more than 200 people.

Kepner was supported in his comments by Don P. Shearer, real estate appraiser and advisor of Camp Hill, who said, “I have never seen a CAFO located this close to a residential development. I was shocked when I was told a farm of this nature existed so close to residences.”

“I can tell you there will be a loss of marketability, the impact of which will hurt the quality of your neighborhood,” he said.

Shearer appeared at the request of Kepner. His credentials encompass conducting an analysis of real estate after the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant and an evaluation of loss at Cook’s Inlet, Alaska, following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

Shearer’s resume’ also includes offering expert testimony on real estate in 20 Pennsylvania counties.

Kepner told the audience that the plaintiffs are “looking for additional support from the community … we want to get everyone involved.”

He said the suit stems from the “brutal odor” that restricts people from enjoying their backyards, swimming pools, decks and porches. Kepner added there are also suspicions of illnesses not prevailent before the establishment of the CAFO.

Overall, Kepner said research has determined that 600 houses with a total of value of more than $9 million are within one mile of Dagostin’s farm.

The farm has in the past been the site of general farming as well as a now-defunct dairy business. At a hearing before the township supervisors in 2013, Dagostin commented his operation would be subsidized by Sunnyvale Farms of Middletown, a subsidiary of Hatfield Meats Inc.

Dagostin is also reported to have stated that chemicals used would eliminate odors.

In the suit, Kepner outlines that 1.2 million gallons of fecal matter and urine are to be contained in a holding tank under the barn constructed by the parent firm, Hatfield, on Dagostin’s property. Large venting fans at each end of the barn allows for the venting of air inside the CAFO to the surrounding neighborhood, it is stated in a report compiled for Kepner by Prudential Poggi & Jones Realators of Forty Fort.

The Realtor’s report also states, “There appears to be an ample number of homes for sale, however, very few, if any, have sold. Real estate in the affected areas will take longer to sell or won’t sell at all until asking prices drop dramatically.”

Defendants in the case are Paul and Suzanna Dagostin as well as Douglas Zehner of state Route 93, Nescopeck. They are respresented by attorney Louis Kozloff of the law firm of Nelson, Levin, DeLuca and Hamilton of Blue Bell.

Kepner said that in recent communication, Kozloff asked for a 30-day extension to file a response and objections. Kepner estimated that a response could be entered in court in early July.

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