Farm Bureau Fundraiser for Hen House Owners Renews Claims of Bias

Oct 8, 2013

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel on Saturday reported that the Delta County Farm Bureau will host a fundraiser for the Hostetler family, owners of a Hotchkiss hen house at the center of a years-long legal dispute over whether the facility is compatible with the surrounding Powell Mesa neighborhood.

The Daily Sentinel reports the ad in the October 2nd High Country Shopper invites guests to show their support for agriculture and help raise money for the Hostetler’s legal defense.

A Delta County judge recently ruled that the hen house would have to shut down, citing concerns about the facility’s health effects on neighbors. The county and the facility's owners - both defendants in the case - have promised they'll appeal, something they'll have to do before October 18th. 

The Farm Bureau’s fundraiser has rekindled allegations that the county has long been biased on the side of the hen house operators.

Travis Jordan, a resident of Redlands Mesa, where another Hostetler-owned hen house has been proposed and denied by the judge’s ruling, told the Daily Sentinel that former commissioner Olen Lund’s participation in the Farm Bureau fundraiser proves Lund has for a long time supported the Hostetlers.

Lund is the county’s Farm Bureau Board President and served some of that position while still a commissioner. But he says he wasn’t part of any Farm Bureau discussions on the case during that time.

"I recused myself from those meetings," Lund says. "The Vice President took those overs, and I even left the building. I went outside for those portions of the meetings."

"I got pretty familiar with the sidewalk walking up and down the street outside," he says.

Lund maintains he was unbiased throughout the case as a commissioner, saying his victory over a lawsuit brought against him on the issue cleared him of those charges. Lund also claims those allegations are at this point irrelevant.

"Commissioners after I'm gone have made the same decision," Lund says.

Susan Raymond is a plaintiff in the case and lives just up the road from Western Slope Layers. She maintains her health has been threatened by airborne bacteria from chicken manure that blows from the hen house. She says she doesn’t understand why the county continues to fight the judge’s ruling.

"They've already spent in excess of a million dollars fighting this," Raymond says. "Why not take the money and help these people move this facility?"

"This is not accomplishing anything," Raymond says.

Danielle Diamond with the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project says a lot of laws across the country have been written to favor large scale agribusiness interests over community concerns.

Her group has consulted with the plaintiffs in the Powell Mesa case, and Diamond says this case is just one of many across the nation that pits communities against industrial-grade farms.

"The laws have been written in such a way that it's difficult to stop one of these facilities from coming in," Diamond says. "In many states that I work it's very difficult for the local community to have a say in whether or not one of these facilities is sited in one of their communities."

I asked Diamond whether the final outcome of this case (if there is ever one) sets a precedent for similar cases across the country. She says it might, mainly because the judge's decision to close the facility was based so closely on the potential health risks posed to neighbors.

"It's significant in that regard, and I think this is about the future of our food system," Diamond says.

"The decisions that are being made now, even on the local level, are going to have an impact on this community's future, as they will in other communities in Colorado and around the nation."

Asked the same question form the Farm Bureau’s perspective , Olen Lund agreed it could set a precedent, but says it could be a dangerous one.

"Somewhere less than 100 cows is the equivalent to this," says Lund. "And there are lots of places in Delta County where there are less than 100 cows."

"It's perceived as a threat to family farming," he says.

As the case makes its way to the appeals court, Raymond says she’s still confident the courts will uphold the decision to shut down Western Slope Layers, but at the same time, she’s preparing for the possibility that if the hen house stays open - she might just be forced to move.

"I'm already giving horses away, selling horses that I normally wouldn't," says Raymond. "My economic loss is as great, if not greater, than theirs."

Of course, if the judge's ruling does stand, the hen house operators will be the ones forced to move.