Hen Houses in Delta County: Take 3

May 7, 2013

It was same song, second verse at a court-remanded hearing on Western Slope Layers, the Hostetler hen-laying operation on Powell Mesa. At issue is whether the 15,000-hen facility is compatible with the rural neighborhood or a menace to nearby residents.

Delta County commissioners seemed defensive as the unwelcome case came before them a second time because of a ruling by district court judge Steven Patrick. Chairman Doug Atchley reminded the plaintiffs, the Hostetlers and the crowd of about 20 that the hearing had a specific purpose: to allow an opportunity to respond to four documents: a report on an air quality test, an amendment to the report, a memo from County Environmental Health Director Ken Nordstrom and an article he attached to the memo titled “Nuisance Myths and Poultry Farming.”

"This is not an opportunity for anyone to present additional evidence of any type," said Atchley. "That includes any concerns or updates about health conditions that are alleged to have been caused by air emissions from this facility. Any such comments will be curtailed by this board and not taken into consideration."

Representing the neighbors and plaintiffs in the case were Susan Raymond and Travis Jardin. Raymond, a veterinarian whose home and practice are adjacent to the chicken farm, has become the focal point of the fight over whose rights should prevail, whose health studies offer the truth, whether the facility is industrial or agricultural, and whether commissioners are acting in accord with their own master plan.

According to Raymond, "The BOCC just recently denied a gravel pit near Crawford. The opponents to the gravel pit utilized our arguments almost verbatim that we used against the Powell Mesa chicken farm and the Redlands Mesa proposed farm. An intermittent pollutant-producing gravel pit was denied versus the County’s acceptance of a 365-day, 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week, discharging hen-laying facility, which by the way is closer to Hotchkiss."

"The gravel pit is immaterial to this," replied Commissioner Bruce Hovde.

Commissoners also heard from the plaintiffs’ Grand Junction-based attorney, Earl Rhodes who said, "The evidence is overwhelming that this is a bad industrial operation which is causing real harm to real people."

Attorney Karen Budd-Falen spoke for the Hostetlers, a Mennonite family who own and operate Western Slope Layers and propose another 15,000-hen facility on Redlands Mesa. Budd-Falen is from a  Wyoming-based firm specializing in private property rights. "The air quality reports confirm that these ag operations are not different than any other ag operations in the area," said Budd-Falen.

The commissioners agreed to take the case under advisement, once again. They have 30 days to announce their decision. After the hearing, Travis Jardin – who presented a slew of documents rebutting the four items under consideration – said, finally, it was all about location. "We are absolutely not opposed to these facilities in Delta County," he said. "But we just think that they need to be farther away from folks, the way these facilities are performing in our climate. So we’re really out to just protect the neighbors on this."

Edwin Hostetler replied, "They’re creating their own problems on their own property. I have veterinarians who’ll tell you that."

In the next chapter of the chicken farm saga, the commissioners will rule – now for a third time – on the Powell Mesa hen laying operation, and on the proposed facility on Redlands Mesa.