Some cry foul at egg-laying operations
Veterinarian Susan Raymond would rather be attending to her patients on her 60-acre property on Powell Mesa near Delta, instead of visiting a pulmonologist in Grand Junction.
But her burning eyes, continuous sneezing and nose-blowing, headaches and middle-of-the-night fevers have become too much.
Raymond contends that her newly diagnosed asthma is a direct result of her new neighbor — a 15,000-hen, cage-free, egg-laying operation that has set up shop just past her property boundary.
“This is my whole world. This is my life’s work. And I can tell you, they have invaded my property,” Raymond said.
She’s not alone. There’s been considerable community backlash and legal tangling since the county began considering two applications by Western Slope Layers and Rocky Mountain Layers last year. Owner Edwin Hostetler wants to build two large egg-laying facilities — one is currently operational on Powell Mesa, the second is proposed for Redlands Mesa.
That hasn’t set well with more than 70 petition-signers on Powell Mesa, 227 others from the North Fork Valley, and more than 30 people in a subdivision that adjoins one of the proposed sites, according to legal filings.
The complicated case takes another turn Tuesday, when a 2 p.m. public hearing is scheduled before Delta County Commissioners in Room 234 of the Delta County District Courthouse building.
The hearing is a result of a recent decision by District Court Judge Steven Patrick, who remanded the case back to commissioners.
Patrick found “abuse of discretion” in the board’s decision to approve the developments, and specified there needs to be additional findings in four specific areas: whether the operations are compatible with the neighborhood, whether they will have a negative impact on property values, whether conditions attached address environmental concerns, and whether Delta County staff is technically able to monitor and enforce the conditions of approval.
In a follow-up order — intended “to make it loud and clear” to county commissioners, according to one of the plaintiffs — Patrick stated that his review leads him “to the necessary conclusion that this egg-laying operation cannot continue to operate until County approval of the special development.” He stopped short of requiring the removal of the chickens.
“That immediately told us that this thing is now operating without approval and without a permit — and should be shut down,” said Travis Jardon, a property owner on Redlands Mesa who has led an organized effort to deny the farms.
His group pressed Delta County Attorney Christine Knight to issue an immediate cease and desist order, to no avail. Knight said in a letter that she would indeed issue the order if county commissioners decide to deny the application after the rehearing, but Jardon isn’t holding his breath.
“We pretty much feel they’re going to rubber-stamp another approval on this thing,” he said.
That said, both sides are still gearing up for Tuesday’s meeting.
Much of the support for the proposals can be traced to Delta County’s well-recognized Libertarian community, and a “right to farm” argument has been central to their case so far.
Raymond discounts that, and interprets the right as applicable only to existing farms, not new operations being located in already residential areas.
Jardon has organized an official opposition group — the Compatible Land Use Coalition, which uses the apt acronym CLUC. The group’s website contains reams of documentation, along with videos of the operation in action, which he says back their claims of contamination.
He’s also prepared to aggressively argue one of the main conditions from the judge’s order, concerning negative impact of property values. He’s enlisted the services of a leading expert on property devaluations near confined animal operations, John Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick’s 18-page report is meticulous in detailing similar cases across the country, and concludes that “property value impacts can range as high as 88 percent for homes located immediately adjacent to the (animal operation), rendering the property useless and unmarketable for any residential purpose.”
Regarding harming his property values, Jardon said, “Unfortunately, our county commissioners just blew that part of the master plan right off when they made their initial decision.”
Whether the master plan for the county is even regulatory in this case is an issue in and of itself.
in our climate
There are a number of large-scale, egg-laying operations in the Delta area, including more than eight locations of California-based Foster Farms. So what’s the difference?
The key distinction is the proposed Hostetler farms are “cage-free” — similar to other operations in midwest states like Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. There, humid conditions mean the manure from the chickens never dries, and just packs down many times over.
Jardon contends that in our dry, humidity-free climate, the chickens end up walking through and rolling around in the layers of dry manure, pulverizing it into fine dust.
“That’s just blown, turbo-charged, right out of the facility,” he said, in reference to the “tunnel ventilation system” that can be found in the Hostetler facility.
Raymond said that type of contamination is obvious from the vantage point of her property.
And it’s not just microscopic dust and dander — she anecdotally recalled how she dust-busted half a jar of down feathers that collected in her house, which passed through her screened windows.
She’s also compiling a map of her immediate area that shows all of the people who have reported health complaints. She estimates the number at 10 others — “almost all the houses within a half-mile.”
Edwin Hostetler declined to comment for this story.