Large feeding operation proposed in Menan

A public hearing on a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, is being held by the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning commission at 6 p.m. May 6.

The project has been proposed at approximately 699 N 3200 E, Menan, by Tom Dunlop that covers over 200 acres. According to Planning and Zoning Administrator Kevin Hathaway, the area is currently zoned as Ag 10 which allows for agricultural use but does not allow for a large CAFO. 

"With the size of the area, it could easily be an Ag 20 or Ag 40 which is why we're putting forward to the commission to let them decide" Hathaway said.

According to the current Jefferson County Zoning Ordinance, a CAFO facility area must be a contiguous parcel of land that consists of any combination of animal units that total 1,000 animal units or more for 90 days or more a year, any facility with a milk shipping permit or with an Animal Waste Management System.

Menan Mayor Tad Haight stated that the operation is looking at 6,000 head of cattle. 

While the city of Menan has not taken an official stance on the operation, Haight stated that he believes it will be too close to the river, be hard on infrastructure and be vulnerable to flooding possibilities. 

"I think that the topic of this project has been under-reported by the county with something this large," Haight said. "I would prefer to have it somewhere else."

Haight continued, saying that he encourages residents to attend the hearing to make comments whether they're in favor or against. Written submissions are no longer being accepted but residents can attend the hearing and sign up to speak. 

For the public hearing, 30 minutes are allotted per case and individuals that sign up to speak will have three minutes to present. The hearing will be held at the Jefferson County Annex in the Commissioners' meeting room and the hearing is not available over Zoom.

Members of the Menan, Idaho Facebook page had varying responses to the project, with some stating that they would rather have cattle than Californians in the area. One resident though stated that they were looking at having a feedlot impacting the water where their children play.

With 6,000 head of cattle, the CAFO would be considered a Large CAFO. All livestock operations are required to have a Waste Distribution Plan, a Nutrient Management Plan and Waste System Design, use shielded or directional lighting, have waste storage on property that is not a part of the CAFO, and a Closure Bond. 

The maximum animal unit density for CAFOs requires a minimum of one acre for each 20 head of weaned animals. Sanitation of such confined facility must be in accordance with Idaho State regulations. 

Sarah VanSteenkiste has lived in Menan for nine years and stated that her motivation in speaking out against the CAFO stems from being a concerned citizen that lives within 3,000 ft. of the project and wanting to be an advocate for the families in the area and the community. 

VanSteenkiste said she hadn't heard about the project proposal until she received a short letter in the mail just a few weeks before the hearing. 

"It's been interesting to study about Planning and Zoning laws and the Comprehensive Plan," she said. "As I've been reading, first and foremost the most obvious concern I have is that the request is outside of the zoning law."

VanSteenkiste said the request is not legal for the zoning and that even with a conditional use permit, the CAFO could only have up to 350 head of cattle. She stated that they're asking to skip directly to a large CAFO which with 6,000 head of cattle, would be 20 times more than what would permitted with a conditional use permit.

Erik Stout with the Planning and Zoning Office confirmed that was correct but their office decided that it could be reasonably argued before the commission that the amount of land they have, 202 acres, is larger than the requirements on an Ag 40 zone. 

"Our office is neutral on these things so we wanted to send this to the decision makers for an argument on its behalf as opposed to our office just denying it," Stout said. "We felt it should be up to the commission to consider it before we just turn it away."

VanSteenkiste said they're asking for an exception to a rule under the argument that it's a significantly similar use.

"I would argue that 20 times more cows than what is allowed is not significantly similar," she said. 

Other concerns she stated included the proposed location's proximity to the Snake River and a natural spring, run-off, flooding and contamination. 

"It's 1,800 ft. from the Snake River, which is our prized possession here in Idaho, and it's within less than 1,000 ft of private residence with a well, and there are three other residences within 2000 ft of the proposed facility with their own private wells as well," VanSteenkiste said. "There's a high contamination risk."

VanSteenkiste stated that they've met with other community members, submitted letters and are trying to get as many concerned people to show up to the meeting so they [commission] understand the significance of it.

"The mission of Planning and Zoning is to promote health, safety and general welfare of the community and I feel this application would not accomplish that goal," she stated.

Tom Dunlop with Smith Cattle Company is the party proposing the CAFO at the hearing May 6. Smith Cattle Company is located in Lewisville and Dunlop says that while they've owner the property in Menan for a "number of years," they haven't always considered that area for a CAFO.

"Just circumstances have come up that have resulted in this proposal," Dunlop said."We would like to have a grower yard in the county to support the other yard we have. This would be for young cattle."

Dunlop stated that while they're requesting for 6,000 head of cattle, he said that it's still a question of whether or not they would build a CAFO that large. 

"The way the ordinance is structured, we went with what the maximum capacity is for that parcel but it doesn't mean I'm going to build that much," he said. 

When asked on the zoning, Dunlop stated that he didn't believe they would need to rezone under the ordinance because it's already zoned for agricultural use. He said that they are interested in doing ag work, not subdivisions, so if the commission does want it rezoned, the Ag designation doesn't make a lot of difference to them. 

In terms of concerns residents have voiced up to this point, he said that the State of Idaho has inspected the property and that the project wouldn't be done "willy nilly." He also said they've hired an environmental engineer to assess that site and that there are lots of requirements that need to be met if it's approved.

"I have no interest in damaging the environment," Dunlop said. "We intend to do it right."

At this time, Dunlop said they do not have a timeline for the project if it's approved and that there currently aren't any resources allocated for moving the project forward.

Dunlop said that they also want to be a player in bringing jobs to Jefferson County and if they were to build the site out to the full level they're requesting, they would create five to seven jobs. But there's still no set plan in moving forward at this time. 

"Some people like to put the cart before the horse and talk about what it's going to look like, but I don't even know what it's going to look like at this point," he said. "It has to be approved first before anything else happens."

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