On Monday the Delta County Commissioners went into executive session to discuss ongoing litigation over the Hostetler hen-laying operation on Powell Mesa. The closed door sessions with county attorney Christine Knight have become a hallmark of the commissioners’ regular meetings as the case has dragged on for two years.
Delta County has now hired the largest legal firm in the state, one that also has offices Utah, Montana and Nevada, to defend the laying facility near Hotchkiss that houses 15,000 hens. The case is currently before the Colorado Court of Appeals after plaintiffs, claiming that the facility is a health menace to neighbors, won string of legal victories in district court. Three days after the operation should have legally ceased, the hens are still laying, and across the road, plaintiff and veterinarian Susan Raymond is pondering her next legal move.
"They want to keep operating while the appeal process happens," Raymond says. "So we’re going to the judge and asking either for an emergency session of the appellate court, or ask him again. I just hope we can get it shut down while we’re waiting on the appeal."
According to County Attorney Knight, appeals can take a year or more to decide. In June the County required the Hostetlers to monitor air quality and provide a plan to the county for reducing emissions. County Environmental Health Director Ken Nordstrom was unavailable for comment about whether this had yet occurred.
In the meantime, Raymond, who has lived in her family home on Powell Mesa since 1964, hates the idea of public money going toward the case against her. Raymond says the county's use of taxpayer money to continue fighting the case doesn't make sense, given the funding needs for schools and libraries.
"They want to raise taxes for all of these needs that we have in this community," she says, "and yet the county commissioners are using tax-paying money to do this. Why?"
Knight said she was researching whether the amount paid to the legal firm Holland and Hart can be made public, or whether attorney client privilege protects the information.