Karen Davidson: The Way The Whole Cypress Grove Thing Went Down Would Get Anyone’s Goat – July 15, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

I am writing this as one of those opposed to a 1,400 goat building on the pastureland on Q Street, suggesting a do-over would not change the essential problem. While I am not sorry about Cypress Grove backing out of the project, there are several things I wish I could do over.

• I wouldn’t have yelled, “Get a permit!” at the meeting. Not a good example to the kid who asked so politely if maybe they couldn’t split it into several smaller farms.

• I’m sorry that their wording “plan to spread manure on the property next to Janes Creek” became “stockpile manure, and/or liquefy and spray the effluent” in one woman’s flyer. Stockpile (compost) turned out to be accurate.

• I apologize to the pedestrians who had to walk around the protest poop. For those wondering, that’s what a goat does in 15 minutes of posing for photos.

I think many neighbors would have liked the process to go differently, but I would like to consider the question of whether we were a misinformed mob or a large and well-informed group of neighborhood leaders with a hundred supporters. I think timeline would be helpful to explain how difficult it was to get the information, what we learned and when:

On Tuesday, May 31 a neighbor spoke with the CFO of Cypress Grove about leasing their cheese factory farm land. He was told no, it was planned for haying and manure spreading for a proposed goat farm and dairy. The CFO was surprised he hadn’t been told because he was a neighbor, and explained the project was 1,400 goats in a building that they would live in full time.

On Thursday, June 2, this same neighbor spoke with Mary Keehn to get more details, and told her he did not support the project. He was told there was still time for them to reconsider, but the project did not require a use permit and they closed escrow the next Wednesday.

On Friday, June 3, he spoke with Bob McCall from marketing and got more details, and they disagreed about the appropriateness of the project. That evening he told his family what he had learned, and as a family we felt that the neighbors should be told.

Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and 5, I walked door to door to explain what we knew, and I carried a petition for people to sign opposing the project. I was joined immediately by other neighbors with their own petitions, including the former head of Humboldt County Enviromental Health, who in 2002 was one of the health officials who investigated a rash of nearly fatal E.coli infections.

Some had breathed fecal dust in the goat barn at the Lane County Fair in Oregon. 75 were sickened, 12 hospitalized, five of them children with complete renal failure. The youngest was two years old. I retired here to help raise my grandchildren, who just turned three.

That weekend we learned the church and only one other neighbor had been contacted by the dairy. That neighbor felt the project had been misrepresented to them as a small farm with animals that lived outside and had a barn although Mary told me her representatives had said a “very large barn with a lot of goats.”

On Monday, June 6, more than one immediate neighbor to the project met with Mary Keehn to get more details, express their concerns and deliver signed petitions. These better informed neighbors were only more upset after their meetings, as details came forth: 1,400 goats, four acres of parking and buildings, quarterly bulldozing of three to four feet “deep bedding” into three-sided, 36-foot-tall buildings to air dry in the Arcata Bottom wind before being loaded and hauled away.

I genuinely believe that Mary meant well with her proposal, but a factory farm is still a factory, and people had a right to be concerned about pollution.

On Tuesday, June 7, I met with Cypress Grove to explain the classic protest methods we intended to use including a goat, children with signs, clever slogans on signs, the donated satirical logo. I talked about the plan and my concerns with Bob McCall who told me the closing was postponed so I said I would cancel the planned protest for that day. I then returned a call the the Eye left while I was in the dairy and Kevin said the press would be there at 3 p.m., even though we were calling off that day’s protest.

Cypress Grove had postponed it, after all, so no signs were painted that day. But I wanted Bob to understand I was being honest and up front, so I returned to the dairy to explain the press couldn’t be called off so more information would be helpful. I then met with Mary Keehn. She was really polite and I liked her, but she was very angry about our information-gathering methods.

In our conversation, she explained that the plan had been to buy the land, get the building permit and then show the finished project to the neighbors. No use permit process, but she was sure the finished project would be received well.

From Tuesday until the following Monday we continued researching. We met with county staff, we talked with our elected officials and we had a lot of experienced, smart people involved from the neighborhood.

On Monday, June 13, I attended the neighborhood meeting and spoke about my worry that once they built their herd to the planned 1,400 goats, the Right to Farm Act would allow them to expand even more. After the meeting the architect answered my question, explaining that he’d been asked to leave space for expansion towards Q Street.

There were many concerns raised that Cypress Grove couldn’t answer, but what really drove the meeting was the question, “After all we’ve said tonight, are you still going to shove this down our throats?” Cypress Grove said “yes” in front of 126 neighbors.

After the meeting I learned from Supervisor Mark Lovelace that the closing had been delayed until the coming Wednesday, two days away. The next day we made good on our promise: the neighbors met at the gate at 4 p.m., but there was another press release, this time saying that Cypress Grove had cancelled the purchase.

In the weeks since that happy and sad moment, I haven’t liked seeing my neighbors being derided as uninformed. As others have said, the neighbors weren’t uninformed, they were purposefully not told about the project.

The secrecy of the plans led to a lot of unknowns, but we got our information directly from Cypress Grove, and we were not unfair in our portrayals of the information given us.

But here’s what alarmed many neighbors – more than one Humboldt County planner told Cypress Grove that their operation was exempted from a use permit. They told Cypress Grove that the zoning language was overruled by a 1995 approval for a three acre confinement feeding building, attached dairy and unlined manure lagoon down in Ferndale. The approval was appealed to the Supervisors, and with a split vote it was allowed to proceed.

I think the question of how, and if, Humboldt County allows factory farming to proceed deserves a much better discussion. I want it to be less rushed, more polite, and more accurate. But it should be had legally, following the Ag zoning, with review under CEQA and a public hearing.


Karen Davidson is a Bloomfield-area resident who helped spearhead initial resistance to Cypress Grove’s goat dairy project.

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