Delta County chicken farm opponents fuming over apparent cozy relationship

Delta County chicken farm opponents fuming over apparent cozy relationship

Veterinarian Susan Raymond stands just steps from a property boundary near her home on Powell Mesa in Hotchkiss. In the distance, the 15,000-hen egg-laying facility operated by Edwin Hostetler can be seen. A judge has ruled the farm must be shut down within weeks because of uninvestigated health-related claims by Raymond and others. Photo by William Woody/Special to the Sentinel



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Veterinarian Susan Raymond stands just steps from a property boundary near her home on Powell Mesa in Hotchkiss. In the distance, the 15,000-hen egg-laying facility operated by Edwin Hostetler can be seen. A judge has ruled the farm must be shut down within weeks because of uninvestigated health-related claims by Raymond and others. Photo by William Woody/Special to the Sentinel

Hotchkiss resident Susan Raymond gets emotional while talking with a friend, who wished to remain unidentified, at her home off Powell Mesa Road following the news of a favorable court order. Photo by William Woody/Special to the Sentinel



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Hotchkiss resident Susan Raymond gets emotional while talking with a friend, who wished to remain unidentified, at her home off Powell Mesa Road following the news of a favorable court order. Photo by William Woody/Special to the Sentinel

Susan Raymond shows an air filter clogged with chicken feathers at her Powell Mesa Road home.



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Susan Raymond shows an air filter clogged with chicken feathers at her Powell Mesa Road home.

An ad from a Delta County publication previews a fundraising benefit for the Hostetler family, whose egg farm has been ordered shut down by a judge. The primary contact on the ad is Olen Lund, a former Delta County Commissioner who voted twice to approve the controversial farm.



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An ad from a Delta County publication previews a fundraising benefit for the Hostetler family, whose egg farm has been ordered shut down by a judge. The primary contact on the ad is Olen Lund, a former Delta County Commissioner who voted twice to approve the controversial farm.

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HOTCHKISS — A political force behind the controversial approvals of two egg-laying operations in Delta County is set to host a fundraiser for the family behind the farms, just days before a judge’s deadline expires to shut down the currently operating egg farm or file an appeal.

Former Delta County Commissioner Olen Lund — who twice approved the Hostetler family’s plans to operate 15,000-hen cage-free egg-laying facilities on rural-residential Powell and Redlands mesas near Hotchkiss — is also board president of the Delta County Farm Bureau, which recently advertised a benefit to raise money to help pay the Hostetlers’ legal bills. Lund is listed as a primary contact for more information on the ad.

“Enjoy a free hamburger, and show your support for agriculture!” the ad in the Oct. 2 High Country Shopper reads.

Days earlier, one of the plaintiffs who sought and received relief in district court, veterinarian Susan Raymond, could hardly keep her emotions in check in the immediate wake of a judge’s ruling that set an Oct. 18 deadline for the farm just beyond her property to cease operations or seek a stay from an appeals court.

“We’re gonna shut them down!” she excitedly told someone on the other end of a phone call.

Raymond still wears a medical mask while working around her veterinary clinic and farm on Powell Mesa in Hotchkiss, a property that has been in her family for generations. She claims — and the chicken farms’ supporters often doubt — severe adverse health impacts, including an escalation of her asthma, which Raymond says began immediately after the chickens arrived at the nearby Hostetler farm in April 2012.

Her evidence that clouds of pulverized chicken poop, dander and other particulate are being regularly expelled by the Hostetler operation, located just down the way from her property and along a natural draw, is found inside her house.

She unrolls an indoor air filter and points to trapped partial feathers and a layer of white-colored dust and dander. She doesn’t have any chickens, nor any other feathered friends, on her property.

She said she recently went to the dentist for a cleaning, and he discovered an abscess — something she’s never had before. Her dentist attributed it to Raymond “breathing this stuff and hacking it up, too,” she said.

She treats herself — and her horses — with antibiotics. She claims severe headaches, sinus infections and nausea. Her horses show signs of difficult breathing and unusual discharge in the nose and eyes, and they have abscesses as well.

Delta County District Judge Steven Patrick, in a Sept. 27 decision denying a motion by Delta County to stay his previous shutdown order, specifically cited neighbors’ health concerns.

“The Court finds … that the neighboring property owners will continue to be injured, more particularly, that their health will continue to be put at risk were a stay to be granted,” Patrick wrote.

He noted that a total of 37 complaints have been submitted to the Delta County Department of Health as part of the record since operations at the farm began.

In his original order Sept. 5, demanding that a cease and desist order be enacted at the Hostetler farm on Powell Mesa, Patrick scolded Delta County for not pursuing the health and air quality complaints from people in the immediate neighborhood of the Powell Mesa egg farm.

“It seems undisputed that the (Delta) County Department of Environmental Health has not pursued any of the health complaints by contacting the Complainants, only the Applicants (the Hostetlers),” Patrick wrote.

In his most recent ruling, Patrick granted the farm and Delta County 21 days to either cease and desist, or seek relief from an appellate court. The deadline is Oct. 18.

ALLEGATIONS OF BIAS

Former Commissioner Lund, along with current county commissioners Bruce Hovde and Doug Atchley, first approved the Hostetler plans for two 15,000-hen operations in 2012.

The board did so unanimously, despite denial recommendations from the Delta County Planning Commission and a host of opposition to the farms. Public hearings surrounding the decisions, however, were forums for both opponents and supporters of the Hostetler operations.

Plaintiffs in the district court case maintained — but ultimately were not able to convince Patrick — that commissioners were overtly biased in making their decisions.

Lund — who says he has been board president of the benefit-sponsoring Delta County Farm Bureau for “three or four years,” overlapping his time serving as Delta County commissioner — said the bureau supported the Hostetlers during the application process, but he always recused himself from any farm bureau decisions regarding their applications.

“Certainly that was an issue when I was commissioner,” Lund said. “(But) I did not let my name be a part of any of it at that point in time.”

One of the plaintiffs says Lund’s participation in the upcoming Farm Bureau fundraising benefit is a tacit admission of his longtime support for the Hostetlers.

“I’m certainly not surprised to see Olen Lund in the middle of this,” said Travis Jardon, a Redlands Mesa resident and an organizer of the opposition. “This is just one more thing that he’s done that supports our contention that he has never been neutral during the entire proceedings. I believe that not only has he advocated for the Hostetlers, but he has advocated strongly for their position throughout.”

APPEALS FORTHCOMING

As for Delta County, which is a defendant in the district court case along with the Hostetlers, the current county commission does not appear content to let Patrick’s decision stand.

“Delta County is appealing the district court decision. The Delta Board of County Commissioners feels strongly that land use is a County decision as set forth in the Colorado Constitution and Colorado Revised Statutes,” Delta County Administrator Robbie LeValley wrote in an email.

An attorney representing Edwin Hostetler, Karen Budd-Falen of Cheyenne, Wyo., said Friday she plans to file both a request for a stay as well as a notice of appeal before the Oct. 18 deadline. If the stay is granted so the court could again take up the case, the farm could continue its operations for the foreseeable future.

Budd-Falen said she believes the evidence presented by their medical and air quality experts so far indicates no health concerns associated with the current operation.

“That’s the information that we believe is supported by the record and that we will be arguing to the appellate body,” Budd-Falen said.

Hostetler himself could not be reached for comment.

An affidavit submitted in his name states: “(If) I am forced to stop all egg-laying operations and remove or kill 15,000 chickens, my family and I will face substantial and irreparable damage.”

Hostetler claims it will cost him $14,400 in hauling and labor to remove the chickens; a $1,130 loss of production per day; an outstanding amount of $64,771 owed on current chickens; a $566,244 amount outstanding on his building and equipment; and $133,856 owed on a line of credit, among other costs associated with shutting down.



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