Hog Slaughter Facility: Polluting waters of the State in Ashland — Update

Polluting Waters of the State in Ashland

Oregon environmental law expressly prohibits anyone from causing pollution to waters of the state. The Talent Irrigation District (TID) Canal is considered waters of the state. On February 27, 2019, photos and videos were recorded of brown water flowing down from the property owned by Uproot Meats on the south end of Ashland and dumping sediment directly into the TID Ashland Canal (Figure 1). Several agencies have accessed this documentation, including the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), the Jackson County Development Office, Talent Irrigation District, and the Oregon Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (ODWF). The DEQ, the ODA and the ODWF take this kind of violation very seriously. Jackson County and TID both defer to the other agencies. After some deliberation, it was determined that DEQ would be the lead enforcement agency for this violation.

This didn’t happen overnight. The story began several years ago when the property burned in the Siskiyou Fire of 2009 (Figure 2). After that uncharacteristic fire event, the Forest Service planted thousands of trees to control erosion and stabilize the badly burned Ashland hillside. After several years, the property above Weisinger’s Winery was finally recovering from the wildfire devastation. The burn-scarred parcel situated right above the TID Canal was purchased in 2016 by two new residents from the B ay Area to put in an unlicensed marijuana grow, despite the property having no legal access to irrigation water. Extensive excavation was performed by the new owners without permitting and without regard for the vulnerable and already compromised landscape. The slopes are steep and the soils expansive and unstable. The excavation required to turn a steep forested hillside into a marijuana farm was extreme and destructive to the landscape. Deep gashes were cut into the hillside, approximately 5,000 cubic yards of soil were moved, hundreds of young trees obliterated, including many protected Yew trees that had survived the fire, wildlife habitat destroyed, and aquatic life threatened in the protected tributaries below. This destruction was all done by the new owners without obtaining permits, an engineering study, or plan for erosion control. The devastation is visible for miles around.

Ashland residents could see the damage caused to the hillside and responded with horror and persistence. After a failed marijuana crop and several complaints, the marijuana operation was abandoned. The damage to the once thickly forested hillside remained. The next venture was to use the other side of the hill to put in a pig and chicken farm with on-site slaughter facility right above the TID Canal and the neighboring properties. This land is not suitable for “free-range” animals because it does not have any range or pasture land to provide foraging sustenance for chickens or pigs (Figure 3). It always has been a wooded forest. It is common knowledge that pigs are very destructive to the land and extremely productive in manure. The pigs quickly denuded the steep slope in their wire pens above the TID (Figure 4). The property may currently be zoned Exclusive Farm Use (EFU), but it is not farmland. It has never been farmed. The property does not even have a dwelling on the homesite parcel, irrigation water rights or electricity. The owners began construction of a structure and operation, again without permits. The structure was constructed far from the one-acre parcel designated for a homesite on the property. Jackson County sent a notice to the nearest neighbors who notified others. Hundreds of residents appealed the land use application and ultimately prevailed.

In spite of not having permission or permits, Uproot Ashland (now referring to themselves as Uproot Meats) proceeded to build their slaughterhouse right above and less than 200 feet away from the nearest neighbor’s home. After numerous violations, a Stop Work Order was issued and remains in effect. Two hearings with Jackson County have already taken place and the next hearing addressing about a dozen open violations will occur at 9:00 a.m. on June 18th. Jackson County deals only with land use, but now we’re dealing with environmental issues as well.

Uproot received a warning from the DEQ about erosion issues caused by their extensive excavation back on May 1, 2017. DEQ recommended they get an engineering study and erosion control plan on 11/29/2017 and again on 12/19/2017. Unfortunately, Uproot did not heed this advice, but instead performed the minimum mitigation measures possible, which included rocking the roadway, applying netting to the slope, and seeding.

These minimal mitigation measures taken by Uproot were not monitored and maintained as needed to ensure they were working properly. After a site visit on March 7, 2019, DEQ concluded that Uproot violated Oregon environmental law — causing pollution to waters of the state (Figure 1). By allowing sediment from their property to enter the TID, they have committed a Class I violation, which is the most serious violation and can be assessed a fine of up to $100,000.

The DEQ further states in their report that “the canal has seasonal connections to fish bearing streams in the area including Tolman Creek, which is identified by the Department of State Lands as Essential Salmonid Habitat. Water with high levels of turbidity and sediment can disrupt the food web, have an adverse effect on juvenile fish rearing and migration, and can kill fish. This water can clog fish gills, lower photosynthesis in aquatic plants, and lower fish feeding success and growth.”

This matter has been referred to the DEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement for formal enforcement action, which may result in assessment of civil penalties and/or a DEQ order. A formal enforcement action may include a civil penalty assessment for each day of violation. DEQ has notified a number of other concerned agencies and organizations. This is not only a threat to our environment, wildlife, fish, and irrigation systems. The TID also serves as Ashland’s backup drinking water supply. This is a serious violation which requires enforcement. Erosion and sediment with landslide risk are bad enough, but it can get even worse by adding animal waste. Uproot Meats has been operating for nearly three years on a steep denuded slope without an approved waste management plan. Concerned citizens have taken water samples from the TID before and after the hog lots. Analysis by Nielsen Research Labs has showed spikes in ecoli and coliform after the hog lots.

The National Hog Farming Association states that, “the most important factor for success for this type of operation is proper site selection. It should consider relatively level terrain with no obstacles, and areas with moderate to high wind velocity to promote good odor dispersion.” The site selected by Uproot Meats ignores all of these criteria. It is not a design for success. It is not sustainable. It is a recipe for disaster.

Please visit our Facebook page at Don’t Uproot Ashland for more information.

Thank you.

Denise Krause, Ph.D.

Ashland, Oregon

Captions

Figure 1. Run-off streaming down the hillside from Uproot’s now-defunct marijuana grow, dumping large amounts of sedimentation directly in the Ashland TID Canal. This is an open Class I violation of causing pollution to waters of the State.

Figure 2. The property was the site of the Siskiyou Fire of 2009, an uncharacteristic fire event that rendered the hillside extremely unstable due to loss of trees and vegetation, resulting in unstable, expansive soils subject to erosion and run-off.

Figure 3. Un-permitted structure built by Uproot Meats far from the parcel designated for a dwelling. The plans are for unauthorized uses — to slaughter on the first floor and live on the second floor. “Free-range” chickens searching for sustenance in a barren landscape created by more extreme excavation for illegal construction.

Figure 4. Steep barren slope where wire pig pens are located just above the TID Canal, quickly and efficiently uprooted by pigs of all vegetation and subject to run-off. One pig produces, on average, 11 pounds of manure per day. Analyses of water samples have shown spikes in ecoli and coliform in the TID Canal below the pig lots.

Polluting Waters of the State in Ashland

Oregon environmental law expressly prohibits anyone from causing pollution to waters of the state. The Talent Irrigation District (TID) Canal is considered waters of the state. On February 27, 2019, photos and videos were recorded of brown water flowing down from the property owned by Uproot Meats on the south end of Ashland and dumping sediment directly into the TID Ashland Canal (Figure 1). Several agencies have accessed this documentation, including the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), the Jackson County Development Office, Talent Irrigation District, and the Oregon Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (ODWF). The DEQ, the ODA and the ODWF take this kind of violation very seriously. Jackson County and TID both defer to the other agencies. After some deliberation, it was determined that DEQ would be the lead enforcement agency for this violation.

This didn’t happen overnight. The story began several years ago when the property burned in the Siskiyou Fire of 2009 (Figure 2). After that uncharacteristic fire event, the Forest Service planted thousands of trees to control erosion and stabilize the badly burned Ashland hillside. After several years, the property above Weisinger’s Winery was finally recovering from the wildfire devastation. The burn-scarred parcel situated right above the TID Canal was purchased in 2016 by two new residents from the B ay Area to put in an unlicensed marijuana grow, despite the property having no legal access to irrigation water. Extensive excavation was performed by the new owners without permitting and without regard for the vulnerable and already compromised landscape. The slopes are steep and the soils expansive and unstable. The excavation required to turn a steep forested hillside into a marijuana farm was extreme and destructive to the landscape. Deep gashes were cut into the hillside, approximately 5,000 cubic yards of soil were moved, hundreds of young trees obliterated, including many protected Yew trees that had survived the fire, wildlife habitat destroyed, and aquatic life threatened in the protected tributaries below. This destruction was all done by the new owners without obtaining permits, an engineering study, or plan for erosion control. The devastation is visible for miles around.

Ashland residents could see the damage caused to the hillside and responded with horror and persistence. After a failed marijuana crop and several complaints, the marijuana operation was abandoned. The damage to the once thickly forested hillside remained. The next venture was to use the other side of the hill to put in a pig and chicken farm with on-site slaughter facility right above the TID Canal and the neighboring properties. This land is not suitable for “free-range” animals because it does not have any range or pasture land to provide foraging sustenance for chickens or pigs (Figure 3). It always has been a wooded forest. It is common knowledge that pigs are very destructive to the land and extremely productive in manure. The pigs quickly denuded the steep slope in their wire pens above the TID (Figure 4). The property may currently be zoned Exclusive Farm Use (EFU), but it is not farmland. It has never been farmed. The property does not even have a dwelling on the homesite parcel, irrigation water rights or electricity. The owners began construction of a structure and operation, again without permits. The structure was constructed far from the one-acre parcel designated for a homesite on the property. Jackson County sent a notice to the nearest neighbors who notified others. Hundreds of residents appealed the land use application and ultimately prevailed.

In spite of not having permission or permits, Uproot Ashland (now referring to themselves as Uproot Meats) proceeded to build their slaughterhouse right above and less than 200 feet away from the nearest neighbor’s home. After numerous violations, a Stop Work Order was issued and remains in effect. Two hearings with Jackson County have already taken place and the next hearing addressing about a dozen open violations will occur at 9:00 a.m. on June 18th. Jackson County deals only with land use, but now we’re dealing with environmental issues as well.

Uproot received a warning from the DEQ about erosion issues caused by their extensive excavation back on May 1, 2017. DEQ recommended they get an engineering study and erosion control plan on 11/29/2017 and again on 12/19/2017. Unfortunately, Uproot did not heed this advice, but instead performed the minimum mitigation measures possible, which included rocking the roadway, applying netting to the slope, and seeding.

These minimal mitigation measures taken by Uproot were not monitored and maintained as needed to ensure they were working properly. After a site visit on March 7, 2019, DEQ concluded that Uproot violated Oregon environmental law — causing pollution to waters of the state (Figure 1). By allowing sediment from their property to enter the TID, they have committed a Class I violation, which is the most serious violation and can be assessed a fine of up to $100,000.

The DEQ further states in their report that “the canal has seasonal connections to fish bearing streams in the area including Tolman Creek, which is identified by the Department of State Lands as Essential Salmonid Habitat. Water with high levels of turbidity and sediment can disrupt the food web, have an adverse effect on juvenile fish rearing and migration, and can kill fish. This water can clog fish gills, lower photosynthesis in aquatic plants, and lower fish feeding success and growth.”

This matter has been referred to the DEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement for formal enforcement action, which may result in assessment of civil penalties and/or a DEQ order. A formal enforcement action may include a civil penalty assessment for each day of violation. DEQ has notified a number of other concerned agencies and organizations. This is not only a threat to our environment, wildlife, fish, and irrigation systems. The TID also serves as Ashland’s backup drinking water supply. This is a serious violation which requires enforcement. Erosion and sediment with landslide risk are bad enough, but it can get even worse by adding animal waste. Uproot Meats has been operating for nearly three years on a steep denuded slope without an approved waste management plan. Concerned citizens have taken water samples from the TID before and after the hog lots. Analysis by Nielsen Research Labs has showed spikes in ecoli and coliform after the hog lots.

The National Hog Farming Association states that, “the most important factor for success for this type of operation is proper site selection. It should consider relatively level terrain with no obstacles, and areas with moderate to high wind velocity to promote good odor dispersion.” The site selected by Uproot Meats ignores all of these criteria. It is not a design for success. It is not sustainable. It is a recipe for disaster.

Please visit our Facebook page at Don’t Uproot Ashland for more information.

Thank you.

Denise Krause, Ph.D.

Ashland, Oregon

Captions

Figure 1. Run-off streaming down the hillside from Uproot’s now-defunct marijuana grow, dumping large amounts of sedimentation directly in the Ashland TID Canal. This is an open Class I violation of causing pollution to waters of the State.

Figure 2. The property was the site of the Siskiyou Fire of 2009, an uncharacteristic fire event that rendered the hillside extremely unstable due to loss of trees and vegetation, resulting in unstable, expansive soils subject to erosion and run-off.

Figure 3. Un-permitted structure built by Uproot Meats far from the parcel designated for a dwelling. The plans are for unauthorized uses — to slaughter on the first floor and live on the second floor. “Free-range” chickens searching for sustenance in a barren landscape created by more extreme excavation for illegal construction.

Figure 4. Steep barren slope where wire pig pens are located just above the TID Canal, quickly and efficiently uprooted by pigs of all vegetation and subject to run-off. One pig produces, on average, 11 pounds of manure per day. Analyses of water samples have shown spikes in ecoli and coliform in the TID Canal below the pig lots.

//inserted by Sharon