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Jerome commissioners deny feedlot permit

Big Sky voted down 2-1, case likely headed to court

By Matt Christensen - Times-News
Edition Date: 10/10/07

MEAGAN THOMPSON/Times-News

MEAGAN THOMPSON/Times-News
Dean   Dimond and his wife Eden gather outside the courtroom Tuesday afternoon after Jerome County commissioners voted down a proposal on a 13,000-animal feedlot. "We live on one side (of the proposed feedlot) and farm on the other side, so they're trying to put it right in the middle of us," said Dimond after the meeting.

JEROME - A proposed 13,000-animal feedlot near the Minidoka Internment National Monument was rejected Tuesday on a 2-1 vote of the Jerome County Commission.

Commissioners were scheduled Tuesday to weigh public testimony presented earlier this month–before voting on the controversial proposal, but it appeared that they arrived with their minds made up: Commissioner Diana Obenauer, who voted against the proposal, read from a prepared statement. Commissioner Joe Davidson also voted no, but cited information County Attorney Mike Seib said was not relevant to the case.

By not first weighing the evidence, the vote opens the door for a lawsuit against the county from the applicant, Eden businessman Don McFarland, say those close to the case.

"This is likely headed for court," said Seib, who declined to answer questions about the procedure.

During the meeting, Seib pleaded with commissioners to discuss public testimony and the county ordinances before casting their vote so that their ruling would be more likely to hold up in an expected lengthy legal battle.

"You haven't weighed any of the evidence," Seib told commissioners. "There needs to be a discussion of how the evidence supports the decision you're making."

Commissioners briefly reviewed evidence regarding the application submission date and testimony regarding sinkholes on the property, but were mostly quiet when prompted by Seib.

"I'm going to request and ask the board to deny this application and let Mike (Seib) worry about it in court," Davidson said.

Opponents of the proposal, mostly neighbors to the site, were overjoyed after the vote.

"I'm very pleased - at least temporarily," said Jim Stewart, whose family lives a few hundred yards from the proposed feedlot site, which McFarland owns. "This means we don't have to worry about all the health and quality-of-life issues."

Dean Dimond, another neighbor and perhaps the proposal's most outspoken opponent, hugged his children afterward.

"I'm thrilled," he said. "It's for the best. I'm glad the county stood up to him."

McFarland and his attorney, John Lothspeich, declined comment following the vote. They have 28 days to appeal the case with the county before they can file suit in district court.

The case has divided Jerome County for nearly a year between agriculture advocates who support McFarland and others who say the feedlot will degrade the environment and the historical significance of the monument, where thousands of Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during World War II.

Neighbors to the site, including the National Park Service that operates the monument, say flies and odors related to the feedlot will jeopardize their health and deter tourism. The NPS plans to expand the monument and attract as many as 80,000 visitors a year.

Controversy around McFarland's proposal sparked a larger debate in the county over confined-animal feeding operations that led to a moratorium on CAFOs. Jerome's planning and zoning boards are reworking county CAFO ordinances to make them more strict, and commissioners have partnered with state agencies to study odors and diseases related to CAFOs in Jerome County.

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