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Big Sky begins

Hearing for controversial feedlot features emotional testimony

By Matt Christensen - Times-News Writer
Edition Date: 09/25/07

MEAGAN THOMPSON/Times-News

MEAGAN THOMPSON/Times-News
Karen Yoshitomi, the regional director of Japanese American Citizens' League, cradles a photo of her mother's family, one of about a dozen family photos she has - the only heirlooms that have survived from before 1942 when they were forced to move into internment camps during World War II.

JEROME - The county hearing for a feedlot proposed near the Minidoka Internment National Monument mirrored dozens of meetings that led to Tuesday's seven-hour affair.

Except for the sheriff's deputies wielding metal-detection wands outside the courtroom - symbols of how contentious the proposed feedlot has become.

County commissioners said they were expecting the worst and ordered sheriff's deputies to search each person for weapons as they entered the hearing.

In Jerome County, you're either in favor of the feedlot or bitterly opposed.

The hearing relates to a proposal by Don McFarland, who wants to open a 13,000-animal feedlot less than two miles from the Minidoka Internment National Monument, known locally as the Hunt Camp, where about the same number of Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during World War II out of fear they would sabotage the American war effort.

The hearing lasted seven hours Tuesday and is scheduled for three more hours today, but it took John Lothspeich, an attorney representing McFarland, less than 15 minutes to argue his client's case. McFarland's permit application is complete, meets all the requirements in the county code and by law should be approved by commissioners, he said.

Lothspeich encouraged commissioners to rule based on their own laws and not let emotional testimony influence their decision.

But that didn't stop dozens of the feedlot's opponents from pleading with commissioners.

"It's your responsibility to protect me and my family," Janeil Stewart said as she choked back tears. Stewart, her husband, four children and one grandchild, live near the proposed site. She and others who testified worry the feedlot will affect the health of neighbors.

Opponent testimony also largely focused on the Hunt Camp, a federally designated U.S. national monument under management of the National Park Service. Site superintendent Neil King told commissioners approval of the feedlot would devastate tourism potential at the site. Just a few thousand people visit there each year now, he said, but the Park Service has plans to develop the site and attract as many as 80,000 visitors annually. More importantly, he said, approval would destroy a part of our history.

"The Minidoka Internment National Monument is an American story … and part of the heritage of Jerome County," King said.

At least one former internee presented written testimony, 84-year-old Gus Tanaka, a retired doctor now living in Oregon.

A descendant of internees, Karen Yoshitomi now represents the Japanese American Citizens' League. She carried a photo of her mother and grandparents to the podium and submitted the family snapshot as evidence after urging commissioners to deny the feedlot permit.

In the first two hours of testimony, just one person besides Lothspeich spoke in favor of the feedlot. Jerome County farmer Jack McCall echoed Lothspeich's earlier comments about following the law.

When asked during a break if he thought the commissioners could make a fair ruling in a case that's dragged on for months and received so much publicity, Lothspeich said he thought they could. "As long as they follow the law," he said.

The hearing continues today from 9 a.m. until noon. Commissioners could make their ruling afterward.

Matt Christensen may be reached at 735-3243 and at matt.christensen@lee.net