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Slaughterhouse brings water, property value concerns

Glenn Ristine and Holly Kimball

Our journey opposing the proposed slaughterhouse on Hwy 88 has been difficult. There has been a lot of misinformation. While the parcel is zoned for agricultural use; it is not zoned for commercial meat processing.

Title 20 of the Douglas County Code excludes slaughterhouses in its definition of approved agricultural uses for AG19 properties: “the use of land for farming, dairying, pasteurizing and grazing, horticulture, floriculture, apiaries, animal and poultry husbandry, and accessory activities, including but not limited to, storage, harvesting, feeding, or maintenance of equipment, excluding stock yards, slaughtering or commercial processing.” This is why Sinclair must seek a Special Use Permit (SUP) to operate a kill facility.

Of primary concern to families in the immediate area are water resources for the valley. It is the location that we oppose. The property is in a FEMA 100-year flood plain and on a large aquifer that serves the entire Carson Valley, Indian Hills, and south Carson City. Additionally, it has an extremely high water table, sitting 18 inches below the surface. The Rocky Slough runs through this property, with the Carson River watershed flowing toward the Carson River (not to mention the vital irrigation ditches).

Even if the area never floods again (yet it will), the high water table prevents the necessary percolation of the wastewater system. Wastewater systems sometimes fail, especially under hazardous environmental conditions. Our wastewater expert is a recognized leader on recirculating vertical flow constructed wetlands. The system Sinclair presented at both county meetings is based on our expert’s design for a domestic water system — not an industrial system, as the slaughterhouse requires. Not one of the 100 of these systems designed and installed by our expert has been built in, or near, a flood zone. They are not designed for such use. Our expert has serious concerns about Sinclair’s submitted plans: The effluent: Sinclair’s plans understate the quantity of effluent, and even that amount is too much. Backed up effluent will overflow. The nitrogen: Sinclair’s plans do not address the removal of the high amount of nitrogen, which “will easily exceed groundwater limitations.” It is important to note that released nitrogen smells bad.

Like any property owner, we are concerned about property values. Unlike the sequence where homes were built and purchased after the county sewer plant was established, homes near the proposed slaughterhouse have been there for decades and even generations. We bought our homes with knowledge of the working ranches in the area, but not a slaughterhouse. Perception plays a big part in valuing property. Properties located near slaughterhouses have a stigma because of their location. Douglas County’s own Tax Assessor went on record stating there was the potential for a loss in tax revenue due to the decline in property values extending out to two miles and affecting over 1,500 homes.

A Special Use Permit is not a right. Sinclair is suing over the commissioners’ 5-0 denial. Throughout this process, including Sinclair’s legal briefs, we have been criticized as NIMBY (not in my back yard) whiners. The location Sinclair has chosen is high-risk. When Sinclair was having trouble locating her slaughterhouse in her California community, she stated in the Sinclair Family Farm Newsletter (April 2013): “Money is of course at the top of the list as is trying to find a location that is close enough to make it work for the producers and yet far enough away from homes and cities.” Sinclair had concern about the slaughterhouse’s proximity in her own California community, but not about here in our valley.

We’ve been subjected to condescending and derogatory remarks in Sinclair’s legal briefs, on social media, at the BOCC meeting, and other public gatherings. We have been accused of operating in the shadows, promoting misinformation, fear-mongering and biting the hand that feeds us, just to describe a few. We are neighbors, working together to protect our homes and our water supply. After our initial research raised serious concerns, we started a GoFundMe page so that we could hire subject matter experts to advise us. We gathered nearly 1,000 signatures on a petition from people living in Douglas County objecting to the slaughterhouse location. Douglas County’s attorney pointed out in his legal brief: “It does not serve Sinclair’s cause to insult honest Douglas County citizens and neighbors of this project who happen to commit the crime of not welcoming this animal killing operation into this particular specific location in Douglas County.”

The judge in the case has requested a final brief from each side due Aug. 28. While we don’t know what the outcome will be, we are dedicated in doing the right thing and we are ready for next round.

Glenn Ristine and Holly Kimball are Carson Valley residents.