Slaughtering the County Tax Base

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Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 1:20 am  //  Tip Johnson

Amending the zoning of 88,000 acres of agricultural  land to allow slaughterhouses as a permitted use ignores the entire history of  land use regulation.  A wholesale industrialization of AG lands for this use could generate adverse impacts to human health, land, air, water, wildlife, property values, the tax base, and the social fabric and character of our rural lands. It could devastate investments in homes and render farm crops unsalable. The severity of impacts associated with slaughter are easily researched through readily available reports on the industry.  The county is intentionally ignoring these. The law requires a comprehensive review of all potential impacts, but not one has yet been considered. The Growth  Management Hearings Board requires environmental review at the outset of zoning amendments, routinely ruling that review must not be  delayed until project permitting.  The county is ignoring the GMHB, too - once again.

Zoning is a police power and should be subject to standards. The county should find that there is a shortage of lands for the use designation being sought, assess the need for such lands, and identify the lands most suited, or unsuited for the use.  There must be a public purpose served.  There is plenty of land available for slaughter in industrial areas that have  adequate services and need not interfere with residential and agricultural uses.  The county is ignoring this.

This measure has been the  story of attempting to legitimize illegal slaughter facilities that the county has also systematically ignored.  To avoid disclosing locations, the entire zone must be amended.  The county's failure to competently regulate these facilities should undermine the public's confidence that a larger number will be better  managed.  Even as most recently amended, the measure could inflict radical harm on the community, yet the council seems intent upon adopting it and is determined to do so without environmental review.  If a proper environmental review were conducted, this measure would not be under consideration.  The last time this was done, slaughter became a prohibited use in the AG district. The county is ignoring this.

Finally, the scale of facility needed is easily determined. Other communities have already pioneered methods and means to fulfill this need, address environmental concerns, meet community standards  and maintain high quality products, a premium brand, thus maximizing value to  producers and consumers alike. This usually amounts to one facility less than 10,000 square feet for one, two or three counties.  Instead, the county has wanted an unlimited number of unlimited size.  They recently, begrudgingly entertained a staff proposal to limit it to three, but immediately increased the number and the size of the kill floors. Industry trends strongly indicate that over-liberalized zoning will invite large facilities which will consolidate smaller operations, driving quality and value to the lowest bar.  This defeats the stated purpose of this county effort.   The county has ignored this, too.

Together, it is bad government,  literally ignorant public policy and an extreme, unnecessary risk to the  community.  Please advise the Whatcom County Council that a liberalized slaughtering policy is not in the public's interest.

Related Links:

-> Other NWCitizen Stories on this subject
-> Additional documents and videos at Friends of Whatcom County

Delaine Clizbe  //  Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 7:28 pm

Hi Tip,
I appreciate your concern on this topic.  I for one love my locally raised grass fed beef that is processed at Kaiser Meats, which I believe is located in a AG zone.

A couple of things I would like to point out.  First you mention the potential negative impact of slaughter houses on our “rural lands”.  Personally, I think that is something that people who live in our rural areas should decide.  When houses are spread out by 5,10,20 acres, the “noise, smell ect ect” is lessened.  It’s not like they are suggesting building a slaughter house in downtown Fairhaven. 

Second, while I appreciate that there must be zoning.  I also can see that in this example market forces will very much control the outcome.  I really just don’t think that Whatcom County has enough head of cows to support an uber facility.  However, it may support several Kaiser Meats size plants.  Furthermore, the cost of industrial land for slaughterhouses would surely not support small local producers.  You may very well end up with a uber-facility in the industrial zone.  But the fact that there is not one already probably speaks to the lack of sufficient market to support the needed investment.

Thirdly, I too am concerned that we preserve our agriculture lands.  The GMA specifically addresses that “resource lands” are to be maintained.  Personally, I think slaughterhouses make sense in the ag zone.  But this does raise the question of whether the County Council is following the GMA in regards to resource lands.  Another very good example of this is the reconveyance of 8000 acres of land zoned commercial forestry to become a park.  If that does happen, the County Council will once again be giving away our resource lands. Folks should find that concerning as well:)

 

 


Wendy Harris  //  Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 9:41 pm

Tip is absolutely correct. We need an adequate ag. zoned land base to keep our ag. community viable for the production, rather than the processing, of food. That is why we have a Rural Industrial Manufacturing zone, which is prioritized for food processing uses. The County has not explained why the RIM zone is not adequate.

Under the GMA, the County should restrict non-farm accessory uses to poor quality soils.  There has been no attempt to ensure that high quality soils and lands of long term commercial use are protected from conversion to industrial use.

Ag.land is protected under state law for the public interest.  It is not intended to provide farmers a profit for industrial uses of farm land.

We need to plan with facts and science and law, not knee-jerk property rights philosphy. 


Tip Johnson  //  Sat, Feb 16, 2013, 12:32 am

Everyone has their own ideas and priorities.  These shape how we view an issue.  Environmental review is important because it does the research necessary to more adequately inform decision makers and the public.  The law intends this should happen as early and completely as possible.  This makes the quality of public debate more circumspect, and better, in consideration of the facts.

A comprehensive environmental review is warranted for any amendment that proposes industrial uses for 88,000 acres of agricultural land.

Ask the County for an Environmental Impact Statement on their Slaughter amendment.



Delaine Clizbe  //  Sat, Feb 16, 2013, 8:39 am

So Wendy you are saying that Kaiser Meats is an industrial use of ag land?  I would think that what we want is for small producers to have small processing facilities to handle their processing.

What really gets me is that the constant push for more regulation, more licensing, more taxation, the small industry/business in our County goes away.  You folks want to make it so hard to do business in this area that only the “Hormels” of the world can afford to buck the system and continue to do business.

This is completely at odds with the whole “buy local” argument. 


Tip, you may be right about an environmental review.  Possibly that should be done.  And very possibly it will show that six 5,000 square foot slaughterhouses on 88,000 acres will not have the disastrous impacts that you predict.  The problem is, who pays for that?  Personally, I’m a bit tapped out in the property tax department:)


Wendy Harris  //  Sun, Feb 17, 2013, 9:27 pm

Delaine, you have a lot of opinions, but not much evidence.  Hold Kaier Meats up as a role model after it has obtained a County permit to operate legally. Show me proof that environmental regulations put people out of business. All the information I have reviewed indicates that consolidation of the slaughter industry by a dozen or so multi-nationals has squeezed out small farmers.


Rob Stratton  //  Mon, Feb 18, 2013, 8:47 am

Wendy your very statement shows the difficulty, and how it hurts small farmers. The Small Farmers must have all this burden of proof put upon them, they can’t afford that. Of course your previous comment shows your bias “knee jerk property rights”.

Also it is an economic fallacy that consolidation squeezes out the small farmers, because they can only do this if they are working in concert with the local politicians or because consumers decide to buy their products.

If we truly wanted to help local farmers we would simply make it easier for them to use their land.


Tip Johnson  //  Mon, Feb 18, 2013, 3:23 pm

It’s nice to think that farmers would all be good stewards and can have carte blanche on AG lands without consequence.  However, it’s not true.

Google “slaughterhouses environmental impacts” and “consolidation meat industry” and read at least three selections from each set of results before offering naive platitudes on getting out of farmers’ way for slaughter. Honestly folks don’t sit around making this stuff up for fun anymore than land use regulations were made up to frustrate propertarians.

The truth is that slaughter and rendering and feedlots and GMO crops for feed are such a DIRTY business that the public and the courts had to invent and impose land use regulations to rein in the nuisances - like polluted waters, nauseating air and cholera outbreaks.  It’s also true that if you open this door too wide, a big operation will wipe out the small ones and never produce the quality local premium meat products that are the ostensible object of this legislation.

If you think otherwise, you haven’t adequately researched the subject.  Go read + Link and see how flies can contaminate crops and destroy the value of farms or homes.  Do you really believe it can’t happen here?  It can because the County Council doesn’t believe in regulations or environmental review and wants to continue hiding the illegal slaughter operations by rezoning all 88,000 acres of AG for industrial use.  Once the door is open and vesting occurs, it will be very difficult to reverse.

By the way, what do you think led the County to prohibit slaughter in the AG zone over thirty years ago?


Delaine Clizbe  //  Mon, Feb 18, 2013, 4:46 pm

Wendy, you wrote “Show me proof that environmental regulations put people out of business.”  You are kidding….right?!


Tip Johnson  //  Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 1:19 am

That uniquely upper middle class phychosis that we are somehow distinct from our environment continually amazes, but never amuses me.

Good environmental policy is always the best economic policy ( Rob’t F. Kennedy), unless you don’t believe in the long-term and do believe it is a god-given right to steal or dump with impunity. It’s a worn out paradigm that doesn’t work.

When you say protecting the environment is bad, where do you think you live?  Do you breathe air?  Eat food grown from soil? Drink the water?  Then you will probably die of cancer because of all the crap corporations have dumped into the environment to create profits, always under the banner of jobs.

It hard for me to believe people can still think this way. Name one time in the last fifty years that environmentalists were proven wrong.


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