Judge shuts chicken farm, scolds Delta County

090512_chicken_farm_decision

Opponents of a crowded cage-free egg-laying farm in Delta County won a major victory in district court last week when a judge ordered an immediate stop to the controversial operation.

Delta County commissioners and staff, along with farm operators Edwin Hostetler and other members of his family, had stubbornly defended the twice-approved chicken farms — one operating on Powell Mesa and another planned for Redlands Mesa — in the wake of a cluster of health-related complaints from Delta County citizens.

In his ruling Thursday, District Judge J. Steven Patrick in no uncertain terms scolded Delta County for not pursuing the health and air quality complaints from people in the immediate neighborhood of the Powell Mesa farm.

“(Judge Patrick) was able to read the air monitoring reports, read what was going on with the health complaints, and glean the true picture of what was going on in terms of air quality up there,” said Travis Jardon, a main organizer of the opposition to the Hostetler chicken farms and a plaintiff in the case. “I’m just not certain why our commissioners did not do the same.”

“The first obligation of the commissioners, always, is to the health, safety and welfare of the people in this county, and for whatever reason our commissioners totally lost sight of that responsibility,” Jardon said.

“Quite frankly, I think that some of these folks that endured this stuff … I think there’s going to be some long-term health consequences for some of those folks,” Jardon added, of complaining neighbors near the farm. “They were literally becoming prisoners in their own homes.”

Patrick, in his order, writes, “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).”

Each of the chicken farm operations — the farm in operation on Powell Mesa and a second envisioned for Redlands Mesa — houses 15,000 chickens in cramped quarters. A tunnel ventilation system employed at the Powell Mesa farm allegedly discharges massive amounts of dangerous particulates into the air, according to neighbors. As such, the plaintiffs in the case argued, the farms are not compatible with residential neighborhoods, and that “grave health risks” exist because of the operation.

Patrick had previously remanded the farms’ application approvals back to Delta County commissioners, who in October 2012 approved the farms again after taking more testimony from opponents as well as supporters.

The lengthy case record reached more than 1,000 pages, and in his ruling Patrick wrote that the court “has read all of it, most more than once.”

His order vacating the approvals for the farms was issued Thursday, and on Friday. Delta County Attorney Christine Knight issued an order to cease and desist.

On Saturday, Jardon said the Hostetler farm on Powell Mesa was still operating, but said, “We need to give them a few days, to try to find where they can send these chickens off to.”

Jardon said his attorneys told him the window to appeal Judge Patrick’s order is within nine weeks, but that the county “has a real tough mountain to climb if they appeal this.”

Edwin Hostetler could not immediately be reached for comment.



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