Slaughterhouses and Rendering Plants - Videographers Needed

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UPDATE:12.6.12:

Herald Article here, wherein I receive all the gory glory. But it should not go without note that it was Wendy Harris who chopped the wood and carried the water on this for a long time while I fastidiously avoided it, assuming something so ill-conceived and horrific would go away on its own. Wendy had this thing completely wired when friendsofwhatcom.com decided to jump in and help her slay this dragon. It's going to need some more killing in the new year, so go sign the petition!

UPDATE.12.5.2012:

A week ago, not one County Council member had any idea their slaughterhouse bill would not fly through an approval last night. In moving it forward to last night's hearing, the only two dissenters thought it should be even less restrictive. But last night it was sent back to committee by a 7-0 vote. That's the power of daylight. And daylight galore it got, both here and at www.friendsofwhatcom.com (where folks should still go sign the petition).

But this thing is on a siding, not derailed. The beast is damaged but not dead. According to comments in committee and following last night's hearing, a majority still wants to pass something - badly. We and many citizens do not oppose adequate facilities for quality local meats.

But for me, I draw this line in the sand: NOT in the AG zone. That will go to the Growth management Hearings Board where the County already has a strong history of losing. That will go to referendum, where it will end the political career of any proponent. Believe me, I'd rather not.

We will follow this issue and keep folks informed. And we will press for reasonable limits for appropriate facilities somewhere in the 172 acres af rural industrial land where adequate services already exist. Fortunately, we can set this grim business aside for the holidays and don't expect it to rear it's head again until January 15th at the soonest. Happy holidays and congratulations to all who helped.

Video of last night's hearing will soon be posted at friendsofwhatcom,com.

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An atrocious ordinance is coming to public hearing tomorrow night, Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7:00 p.m. in the Whatcom County Council chambers. A proposal is afoot to upzone 88,000 acres of agricultural land. The measure will make slaughter and rendering permitted uses throughout the AG zone. As a permitted use, there is no requirement for public notice and there is no provision for appeal.

This could devastate property values. Studies suggest a whopping 20 to 100 percent reduction in value, depending on proximity, wind direction, and the type and size of facility. There is no effective size limit in the proposal. There is a size limit on individual buildings but the ordinance is carefully worded to allow an unlimited number of facilities to be accessory to one another.

A further provision requires one half of the animals to be from Whatcom County. More than sixty acres would need conversion to factory farm to keep one maximum-sized chicken slaughter busy. That could further lower values and transform the rural character of Whatcom County. This affects everyone because if the rural values drop, levy rates in cities and towns may need to be raised.

The proposal also proffers huge environmental as well as social risks. You can read more about it at www.friendsofwhatcom.com and there is more here at www.nwcitizen.com, too. If you know anyone who owns land in the county, please let them know. There are very good reasons that slaughter and rendering have been moved into industrial zones - where we already have more than 175 suitable acres.

I urge all to contact their county friends and make sure they know what's going on. I urge all to share their opinion of this wholesale upzone of the AG district with their county representatives - council@co.whatcom.wa.us.

This ordinance has been sneaking through the process under the title “Small-Scale Agricultural Slaughter.” It is not small scale and they are going to slaughter animals, though they may end up slaughtering agriculture, too. They have been discussing this since September and are now trying to jam it through before the holidays and years end when the county agendas are always intimidating.

Also, we would all really benefit from any videographers who can spend an evening getting these guys on tape. You shouldn't be able to make decisions this bad without being held accountable. On an earlier tape, available at Friendsofwhatcom.com, you can watch them joke about rendering plants possibly smelling a bit like BBQ. You can also read a sobering account from the director of our Clean Air Authority.

It's nice when you don't have to guard against reversing a hundred years of planning principle, but that's just not a priority for our current council.

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About Tip Johnson

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Dec 05, 2012

Ken Mann posted this inflammatory remark on his page:

“We sent it back to committee. Tip Johnson, I hope you will participate in finding solutions and improved language instead of carpet bombing the public and the Council with inflammatory hyperbole.”

But he changed my permissions so I could not reply (he denies this and I am now able to post, so it may have been a glitch):

Ken Mann, you better start backing up your ad hominum attacks or I will stop being so conciliatory and diplomatic. When you sit at that big table as an elected official (I did for eight years), you can’t whine when someone objects to your lousy decisions based on shoddy research and zero facts. I can back up every statement I offered to criticize your work. So like you said above, Get specific. I am not an expert on slaughter, but I am an expert on public policy and have more years of hands on experience doing it that you have breathing, so please don’t throw childish darts at me when there are still serious issues to address. Get busy and do the work. Sorry it’s not easier. So name what you thought to be inflammatory hyperbole and carpet bombing and say why, or shut up and find a different job. We just stopped you from making a gigantic mistake. A simple thank you would suffice.

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Tip Johnson

Dec 05, 2012

And here are the comments Ken found so inflammatory and hyperbolic.  I left out the part in parenthesis:

I support reasonable scale, properly sited slaughter facilities that benefit local producers and consumers with quality local meat products…but…

Your use of small-scale agricultural slaughter is very misleading. 

What is proposed is not small scale. It addresses the slaughter of animals, not agriculture.  So it should be called large-scale animal slaughter.  The proposal permits unrestrained slaughter and rendering facilities and encourages factory farms across 88,000 acres.  But you have a point. By enabling farmland industrialization it could ironically contribute to the slaughter of agriculture as we know it in Whatcom County.

The bill limits the size to about five times what other communities have found necessary, but then allows any number of such facilities to be accessory to one another and thus permitted.  We showed you that one such facility might slaughter 75,000 chickens per day and require 50 to 60 acres of factory chicken house or untold acres of pasture raised broilers to meet the one half local rule.  This could transform rural Whatcom County for some of the worst jobs in the world in an industry with one of the worst environmental reputations.  There is nothing in the record of this bill to suggest anyone has properly evaluated the potential impacts of this new policy.

We showed you that industrial poultry produces more nitrates and phosphates than feed-lot beef, hogs and dairy combined.  You already know that virtually every aquifer in the county is polluted with too much nitrate.  How many acres of uncontrolled chicken waste can our streams survive?  How many feedlots?  There is nothing in the record to suggest any of this has been considered.

We showed you that property values will go down even if a facility is not built.  The possibility alone will hurt values.  We showed you that values will fall from 20 to 100 percent depending on proximity, wind direction, type and size of facility. These are known facts, proven in other communities, the stuff of studies.  We urged you to ask the Assessor’s opinion.  There is nothing in the record to suggest this has been done.

I showed you what other communities have done. They carefully assessed the regulatory framework, the community need, environmental issues and different business models.  This amendment’s record shows an utter disinterest in such facts. Instead, you propose kicking the door open to the most notoriously problematic land uses known.

Ask yourselves how many of these facilities the county can realistically monitor and regulate?  So far, not even one. Please.  Appoint a qualified task force to take a systematic approach.  Like the jail, lets put the right type and size of facilities in the very best places where they will do the most good and the least harm.

Instead, you propose a willy nilly industrial rezone of the entire AG district.  And you intend to do it with a SEPA DNS that doesn’t even address your proposal.  (That is a laughing stock matter for the Growth Management Hearings Board.  It’s illegal.  Don’t do it.  Don’t make citizens take you there again.  Don’t make citizens refer this to the ballot.  It will be way too embarrassing.  Please.)  Kill this measure and let’s do this right.

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Jack Petree

Dec 06, 2012

The noive of dose guys… imagine, locating agricultural facilities on agricultural land… next they’ll be loading ships at the port or driving trucks on I-5, or allowing UPS and FedEX to land at the airport!

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Tip Johnson

Dec 06, 2012

Ha ha, Jack is a comedian.  You know, like making a joke.  Of course he already knows that slaughter and rendering are currently prohibited uses in the agricultural zone.  They’re industrial uses. That just what we’re talking about.  Ha ha, that’s so funny, Jack.  We call it blue and you’ll call it red.  Ha ha.  Wow!

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Paul deArmond

Dec 08, 2012

*snorts*

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Wendy Harris

Dec 09, 2012

Aaawwwhh shucks, Tip. But I did get mentioned in the Herald article. I am one of the folks whose comments were marginalized as ridiculous and hyperbole.

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