TURNER – After years of swatting flies and closing their windows to keep out the stench of manure, neighbors of the former DeCoster egg farms are taking their fight to court.

A group of 25 people, who live within a mile of the Plains Road farm, have filed a civil lawsuit in Androscoggin County Superior Court against Austin “Jack” DeCoster and three businesses that now make up his farm.

The neighbors claim odor and flies coming from the farm have made them hostages in their own homes.

In addition to diminishing the value of their property, the stench and the bugs have made it impossible for them to enjoy their decks, porches and outdoor pools in the spring and summer, they say.

Some blame depression and need for psychological counseling on the conditions. Others worry that the flies carry diseases that may be harming their health.

The neighbors want two things from the court: an order that would require DeCoster to take immediate action to control the odor and flies and money to compensate them for their troubles.

“This interference (in our lives) is offensive, unreasonable and inconvenient,” they state in their suit.

Robert Leclerc, the person in charge of keeping the flies and the stench of manure to a minimum at the Turner farm, has said that all of the proper steps have been taken to control odor and insects.

Neighbors, who filed suit Friday claiming negligence, nuisance, trespass and infliction of emotional distress, say that this past summer was one of the worst since 1991, when DeCoster expanded the farm, and they first started noticing an increase in flies.

Deep-pit barns

DeCoster opened the farm in 1967, and everything was fine for many years, the neighbors say. Between 1972 and 1987, they say, the population of laying hens and the production of eggs doubled, and the farm has been growing ever since.

The farm, which has been broken into eight smaller businesses, now has about 4 million laying hens that produce more than 85,000 tons of manure a year, according to the suit.

The neighbors allege that the manure is stored in deep-pit barns for long periods of time, and the structures have deteriorated to the point that rain and moisture are getting in, creating ideal breeding conditions for flies.

The lawsuit details one incident in 1987 when a neighbor went looking for the source of the stench and found 100,000 rotting hen carcasses in an uncovered trench.

Leclerc has been quick to point out that much has changed since then.

According to him, the farm follows a state-approved nutrient management plan that has been certified as effective. It also has begun using a new chemical that works to dry out manure more quickly, which helps to reduce odor and eliminate the breeding of flies, he said.

Reorganization

In addition to naming DeCoster as a defendant, the neighbors filed their suit against Maine Contract Farming, Maine Ag and Quality Egg of New England. Those businesses were formed in September 1997 when DeCoster restructured the operation.

At the time, a spokesperson for the farm said the move was made to structure the business like the DeCoster hog farms in the Midwest.

However, neighbors say the purpose of the restructuring was to shield the true nature and extent of waste materials generated at the farm and to disguise continued expansion of the operation.



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