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Richard Moe - Huge feedlot threatens Minidoka center

August 16, 2007 – The Jerome County Commissioners will soon vote on a proposal to locate a huge concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) just over one mile from — and upwind of — the site of the Minidoka Relocation Center. Minidoka commemorates the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and encourages us to recognize the importance of protecting our constitutional rights — but this mission will be hampered if the CAFO is approved. The powerful odors created by thousands of animals, plus the dust, pests and potential airborne pathogens, will severely degrade the visitor experience at Minidoka and rob us of the opportunity to explore an important piece of our shared American heritage.

The threat is so serious that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Minidoka one of this year's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since it first appeared in 1988, our 11 Most Endangered list has called attention to many factors — from highway construction to the ravages of time and weather — that put historic places at risk, but this year's listing of Minidoka represents the first time we've highlighted the threat posed by the insensitive siting of CAFOs.

Minidoka is not alone in its plight: Other historic sites, landscapes and communities across the nation are also facing negative impacts from factory farms. In California, a 16,000-head facility was proposed for a site adjacent to Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, a historic African-American settlement. Happily, the state legislature intervened to stop that project — but in Indiana, the picturesque town of Madison and its historic Eleutherian College are still threatened by a proposed factory farm immediately outside the town, and in Missouri, proposed factory farms threaten four historic sites and state parks, including the National Historic Landmark town of Arrow Rock.

There's no denying that CAFOs are not desirable neighbors. Their presence means odors, pests, reduced water quality and increased truck traffic that can lower property values and reduce the livability of nearby communities. But the impact goes far beyond bugs and bad smells.

The concentration of livestock operations in large facilities contributes to the national decline in the number of small and mid-sized farms — a decline that has consequences for our heritage as well as our economy. As smaller producers are forced out of agriculture, historic farms are sold and historic farm structures are lost. Local Main Street businesses suffer because factory farms employ fewer people than small family-run operations, and typically purchase feed and supplies from sources outside the community.

With so much at stake, decisions about the siting of any CAFO require careful thought and plenty of community input. Unfortunately, Jerome County's review process makes it hard for people to participate unless they can attend a public hearing.

This means that most survivors and descendants of the 13,000 Japanese-American internees who were denied basic civil liberties during World War II won't be heard.

When they arrived at Minidoka in the summer of 1942, these internees found harsh living conditions, but they transformed the surrounding desert into productive farmland and volunteered in record numbers to serve their country in the armed forces.

Now, ironically, Minidoka might again become a symbol of bad public policy and civic injustice.

In the absence of environmental policies at the local, state and federal levels that address the negative impacts of factory farms, the best hope for Minidoka rests with the people of Jerome County and the commissioners who represent them.

For thousands of Japanese Americans, this place is hard and hallowed ground. For all of us, it's a place to remember — and learn.

It's much too important to be spoiled by a feedlot.

Richard Moe is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.