Slaughter on Siskiyou by Addie Greene

A hearing on a proposed slaughter house just south of the Ashland city limits was held January 7 in Medford, with Jackson County hearing officer Roger Pearce presiding. Applicant Krista Vegter of Uproot Ashland had 15 minutes to make her case for her poultry and hog farm.

            Vegter, who must comply with Section 2.7.6 (EX6) of the county code or lose her right to appeal to LUBA (Land Use Board of Appeals), said county staff accepted her revised site plan on January 3 and that plumbing and electrical permits have been approved. She said the water master, the TID (Talent Irrigation District), and DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) all have approved her plan.

            Appellant Dr. Denise Krause showed 14 Power Point photographs of the 28.24-acre property dating back to 2005, when the land was densely wooded. A fire in 2009 destroyed much of the forest, but by 2010 regrowth was starting. In 2016 Vegter purchased the property and began excavating on a 19-degree slope without permits. At the end of the hearing Vegter promised “I agree to no more excavation,” yet on January 11 a reliable source said heavy equipment again was moving soil on the property.

            Adam Danforth of the Butchers Manifesto and the Good Meat Project spoke in favor of Uproot Ashland, saying he toured the property, which he called a “small farm” because there are no manure lagoons. There now is no local processing plant that offers what this operation will offer, Danforth said, and Uproot Ashland will provide sustainably raised pork and chicken.

            Annette McKenna said, “We need food locally produced, and we must support women in business.”

            Krause said pigs produce 11 pounds of manure daily, which for the 32 pigs currently on site is 352 pounds of manure daily. Krause, Vegter’s neighbor, is concerned that this excrement will seep into the ground table and affect not only her well but the wells of all the neighbors below Vegter’s property, which borders on the TID. Because Uproot Ashland is above the TID on a 19-degree slope, Krause believes excrement, as well as effluent, will seep into the TID, which is used by the city of Ashland for drinking water, and contaminate it.

            Krause said a chicken barn to house 20,000 chickens is being built without a permit, and she also is concerned about the disposal of chicken manure. The elevation of the property exceeds what county fire equipment can reach, she said.

            “We all have a right to farm,” Krause said. “We don’t have a right to harm.”

            Tania Moro, Krause’s attorney, said most people are opposed to Uproot Ashland because of the site. The soils and the elevation can’t accommodate what Vegter proposes to do with the property, she said. And she noted that 1000 chickens currently are permitted but that Uproot Ashland has applied to house 20,000. She said the county is shifting the burden to its citizens, including XY Ranch, Weisinger’s Winery, and others. Different site plans were submitted to the county and the Department of Agriculture, she said, and the county must require building of a private road with direct access to Siskiyou for the pig/chicken farm.

            Hyia Sirrah, whose farm is directly below Uproot Ashland, said her neighbor has reduced by a third to a half what she can produce because she has lost animals, been vandalized, had to change milking times, and must rotate her stock. The gate arms on her fence had to be replaced, she said, and there is increased driveway maintenance due to Uproot Ashland traffic.

            Nicki Brinkley spoke to protecting drinking water. “The applicant has failed to provide sufficient information to the county, and the limits of (soil) disturbance have not been provided.” She said there has been a significant loss of ground cover on the property, heightening the danger of erosion.

            There is a guest ranch for breast cancer survivors directly below the property, and horses will not use the pasture closest to the slaughter house. Pig parts have been scattered by predators.

            Sally Teal, a neighbor who has lived near the Uproot Ashland property for 47 years, said she had to hire contractors to shore up her barn and house because of the water from above draining on to her property. She also feels that having free-range hogs will increase the influx of predators such as cougars and bears.

            Vegter said she has been taking her hogs to Eugene for slaughter, but a neighbor said a mobile slaughter vehicle has been on the property, and Vegter has been using heavy equipment without the proper permit.

            Jason Kranberg said, “This is no small family farm but a commercial operation. Manure exceeds the quantity permitted by EFU (exclusive farm use), and composting inherently increases fire danger.”

            Suzanne Witucki said Uproot Ashland’s owners have “proved themselves unwilling to get permits. Where has the effluent been going for the last two years?” she asked.

            Several speakers reminded the county that we live in an area prone to inversion, and odor from the slaughter house and manure may hang in the air for days. Others complained about a decrease in property values.

            Carol Voisin listed a summary of “conditions we would like added,” according to Jackson County Access Design Standards:

  • 9.5.5 access road
  • 9.5.5 bridge over the TID that can support 60,000 pounds
  • 9.2 fencing of 5 feet
  • 9.3.C geological hazards
  • 3.2.5.C traffic assessment
  • 3.2.4.E water resources for fire department, biohazards of public waste, hydrological assessments on TID, monthly documentation of waste.

            In rebuttal, Vegter said, “I agree to no more excavations, I agree to a 5-foot fence, I understand your concerns about water quality, and I am not afraid to be held accountable—we have nothing to hide.”

            Closing the comment period, the hearing officer, Mr. Pearce said he would leave the hearing open for two weeks to allow further documents to be submitted. A second period, ending January 29, will be used strictly in response to the first open period. A third period, mandated by the state, will allow the applicant to submit her final documentation.

Submitted by Addie Greene, Chronicle Reporter