Guv backs Hotchkiss chicken farms

These photos taken Oct. 5, 2010 during a debate in Denver show the three candidates battling for the office of Governor of Colorado. From left are: American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo, Republican Dan Maes and Democrat John Hickenlooper. (AP Photos/Ed Andrieski)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has waded full-force into the issue of whether two controversial crowded egg-laying farms in Delta County should be allowed, siding with Delta County commissioners, the Delta County Farm Bureau, and supporters of the cage-free Hostetler family chicken farms.

One of those farms — which had been operating in a residential-rural area on Powell Mesa in Hotchkiss — was shut down late last year by District Court Judge Steven Patrick, who found that the county did not properly pursue health complaints from some vocal neighbors of the farm.

Another cage-free, confined chicken farm was also envisioned for nearby Sunset Mesa, but both projects are on hold pending an appeal of Patrick’s decision last year that stopped both farms in their tracks.

In an amicus brief filed Friday with the Colorado Court of Appeals, Gov. Hickenlooper, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Colorado Department of Agriculture all lend their weight to supporting the pending appeal filed by Delta County commissioners and the Hostetler family.

The governor’s office and the state agencies’ defense of the farms’ multiple approvals by Delta County commissioners is whittled down to two key arguments: That the operating farm did enough to neutralize environmental impacts, and that Judge Patrick’s district court ruling contradicts the state’s Right to Farm law.

In shutting the farm last year, Judge Patrick scolded Delta County officials for not pursuing the health claims of some neighbors to the farm. However, in its brief to the appeal court, the Colorado Attorney General’s office argues that the farm “went beyond all regulatory requirements” to “minimize undesirable air emissions.”

It states a number of measures allegedly were enacted to minimize emissions, including laying out sawdust, misting with water, adding adjustable dampers, and maximizing ventilation at the egg-laying facility.

Most of those actions were taken in advance of a county-commissioned air quality study of the facility, which is highly cited by the county in other documents filed Friday.

Travis Jardon — a plaintiff in the case and a resident of Redlands Mesa, where the second Hostetler farm is planned — called that key report a “15-minute snapshot study” that revealed little about what was actually being discharged at the 15,000-hen facility.

Jardon also said the other pillar of the governor’s amicus brief — that Judge Patrick’s decision shutting the farms flies in the face of the state’s broad Right to Farm law — should not apply because the case currently on appeal is very narrow in scope, and Delta County officials essentially yielded that the case isn’t a Right to Farm issue during a hearing before Judge Patrick in 2011.

He also said the Right to Farm issue was not argued by either the Hostetlers nor the county when the most recent hearing before Judge Patrick happened. He said his understanding is that “it’s simply off-limits in an amicus brief” to introduce an essentially new argument.

By raising the issue of conflict with the state’s Right to Farm law, the attorney general is further classifying the plaintiffs’ case as a “nuisance,” saying that the district court decision “(shuts) down a viable agricultural operation that was in compliance with all regulatory requirements.” Jardon called that line of defense “just absurd.”

Jardon and the rest of the plaintiffs in the case are currently crafting their answer to the recent court filings, and should have their answer filed within weeks.

He believes that officials with the Delta County Farm Bureau lobbied the governor — who is facing re-election later this year — to get involved in the case. Former Delta County Commissioner Olen Lund, who led the effort to approve the Hostetler farms during his tenure on the commission, soon began advocating for the farms on behalf of the local Farm Bureau right after leaving office last year.

“In my opinion, the Farm Bureau has kind of played a political card here,” Jardon said Tuesday.

Jardon said he and his opposition group tried — with no luck — to get their own meeting with the governor, hearing he may weigh in on the case by filing an amicus brief.

“We made numerous attempts … requesting an audience with the governor. We wanted to tell him, ‘Governor, you need to hear both sides of the story before you do this’,” Jardon said. “He didn’t even respond.”

Eric Brown, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said in an email the amicus brief “speaks for itself,” and declined to provide any further comment.


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