The county commissioners on May 1 heard additional testimony on the Specific Development application by Western Slope Layers, the 15,000-hen egg laying facility which is now operating on Powell Mesa.
Western Slope Layers' application was first submitted to the county over two years ago.
Five citizen plaintiffs are seeking to have the court overturn the commissioners' approval of Western Slope Layers' Specific Development application. The reason for the May 1 hearing was a second order of remand from the Delta County District Court to allow testimony on evidence.
Four items of testimony in the original hearing process had been submitted beyond the stated deadline. Plaintiffs in the case wanted those items stricken from the county's record of decision, but the court ordered instead that plaintiffs' testimony disputing the items be allowed. That took place at the May 1 commissioners' hearing.
Last July, the district court had ordered a different remand requiring the commissioners to re-open testimony on four other issues the court found insufficiently documented in the county's approval process.
The evidence that was the subject of the May 1 remand hearing last week involved the following documents:
• An independent air quality report on the Powell Mesa hen house from the August 2012 study ordered by the county;
• An amendment to that August 2012 report;
• A county health department memorandum from October 2012;
• A University of Georgia study submitted as an attachment to the Oct. 12 health department memorandum.
The attorney representing the five plaintiffs is Earl Rhodes of Grand Junction. The county is principal defendant in the matter. The specific Development applicant, Western Slope Layers, was represented by Cheyenne, Wyo., attorney Karen Budd-Falen.
The plaintiffs had not asked for the May 1 hearing, Rhodes noted. They had asked that the four documents under consideration simply be stricken from the record. He said the commissioners have been presented with "a substantial amount of evidence to support" the plaintiffs' request that the Western Slope Layers hen house on Powell Mesa should not be allowed to operate in that location.
"The evidence is overwhelming," Rhodes said, that the hen house "is an industrial operation that is causing real harm to real people. The scientific evidence is overwhelming."
Rhodes repeated a claim by plaintiffs that the applicant was warned in advance by county staff of the date for an upcoming air quality monitoring test last year. That warning allowed management to make adjustments to the operation and in doing so skewed the results in favor of Western Slope Layers.
Budd-Falen categorically denied that assertion.
Other testimony offered by the plaintiffs included the following points:
• The air quality report under review uses "flawed methodology" and is not reliable as the basis for a decision.
• Discharge from the open "cage-free" hen house on Powell Mesa is much greater that from other, fully enclosed hen houses that operate throughout this area.
• The low humidity climate of this area makes discharge much worse than in high-humidity parts of the country where the applicants' discharge studies were conducted.
• A neighboring hay field is exhibiting damage from a fungus never present prior to the hen house opening; it illustrates "one type of ag destroying another."
On behalf of he applicants, Budd-Falen made several points including the following ones:
• The "bio-aerosols and other airborne materials" emitted from the Western Slope Layers hen house "are common to all agricultural operations."
• The amount of emissions form the Western Slope Layers operation "are not sufficient to cause health problems."
• The county has already responded to neighbors' concerns by calling for an air quality study which "has led only to (neighbors') calls for more study."
The May 1 hearing and the new testimony essentially reset the commissioners' Specific Development hearing process on the Western Slope Layers application.
The plaintiffs asked the commissioners to issue a denial of the application, and the applicants asked that it be approved.
By mutual consent of the two parties, the BoCC's 14-day deadline for reviewing the information and making a decision was extended to 30 days.
The commissioners have scheduled that hearing for Tuesday, May 28, at 8:30 a.m. in their regular meeting room.blog comments powered by Disqus