Appeals court: 15,000 chickens must fly coop

A state appeals court on Friday abruptly ended Delta County’s attempt to keep open a controversial chicken farm located in a rural-residential neighborhood in Hotchkiss — in what could be the final legal chapter of a case that has bitterly divided citizens in the area.

Attorneys hired by Delta County, and others on behalf of the operators of a 15,000-chicken cage-free egg-laying farm on Powell Mesa, had sought appellate relief after a district court judge issued a ruling in September that essentially ordered the farm to be shut down.

In that ruling, District Judge J. Steven Patrick said Delta County did not properly investigate the numerous health-related complaints from citizens living near the crowded farm, among other issues.

The farm — operated by Edwin Hostetler and other members of his family — is one of two that were planned for the area. They were approved twice by Delta County commissioners, after a host of legal wranglings and a number of lengthy and sometimes raucous public hearings about the farms.

It took the appeals court less than two days to digest and then deny the county’s request for a stay of Judge Patrick’s September ruling.

“Judge Patrick shut this thing down based on the health issues,” said Travis Jardon, one of the plaintiffs in the original case seeking to shut the farm down.

But Delta County’s appellate argument, crafted by acclaimed Denver firm Holland and Hart, hardly addressed the key area of Patrick’s ruling, Jardon said.

“There was nothing in there (about the health issues),” Jardon said of the case made by the county on appeal. “They beat all around it, but they missed the mark on the health issues.”

By denying the Hostetler and Delta County request for a stay, a cease-and-desist order issued by Delta County in the wake of Patrick’s September ruling would seem to now be in effect. Farm opponents are anxious to see the Hostetlers take the birds away from the Powell Mesa operation.

“Now it’s a matter of, how long is the county going to give them to enforce?” Jardon said Saturday. “And we are not going to accept this taking weeks to happen.”

“(Edwin Hostetler has) basically had two months to prepare to get those chickens out of there, in the event of a denial of the stay,” Jardon said, tapping what’s left of his patience with the farm’s operation.

One theme that runs throughout the plaintiffs’ case against the Hostetler farms is that they believe the commissioners who approved the farms on two separate occasions — now former Commissioner Olen Lund, and current commissioners Bruce Hovde and Doug Atchley — acted with overt bias in favor of the farms during the tense approval process.

In the end, Judge Patrick ruled the plaintiffs had not proven the claims of bias, but Jardon thinks Friday’s appellate ruling is a direct shot at the county commission.

“This ought to send a message to the county commissioners that these things need to be compatible with where you are going to stick them,” Jardon said. “This thing is a proven danger, and they really need to take a hard look at setbacks.”

“They can literally destroy people’s lives with the attitude that they’ve had,” he lamented.


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