Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lost Valley Farm Sold to Washington Buyer

Well, it's happened. Lost Valley Farm, the infamous factory farm dairy that in its first two years racked up more than 200 violations related to overflowing manure pits, leaking tanks of dead animals, over-application of manure that threatened area groundwater and drinking wells, and even failure to provide restroom facilities for employees, has been sold.

Cow stands in liquid manure at Lost Valley.

Who would be crazy enough to buy a facility that will require millions of dollars to clean up and more millions to install a new irrigation system? Apparently Cody Easterman of Easterday Farms of Pasco, Washington, a large potato and onion grower, who paid $66.9 million through a company called Canyon Farm LLC. (Easterman was contacted by phone but did not respond by the time of posting.)

With some 47 million gallons of liquid manure still remaining onsite—which one source estimated would fill 71 Olympic swimming pools—what is the draw that would make it attractive to a buyer like Easterman?

For one thing, the water rights.

"The irrigation rights for growing crops on the several thousand acres of land are in place, and very valuable," said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, an organization that had been involved in fighting against Lost Valley Farm since it was first proposed due to a lack of regulation and oversight on the part of the state. Though he added, "The water is for sustaining livestock and dairying year-round is still contested and not secure."

The site was originally the Boardman Tree Farm.

In an e-mail responding to questions I posed to the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) about the sale, spokesperson Andrea Cantu-Schomus said that the ODA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have signed what's called an "Order and Mutual Agreement" (OMA) with the federally appointed trustee for Lost Valley Farms, Randy Sugarman, that "ensures the wind-down and cleanup process for the facility."

"The priority of ODA, and our partner agencies DEQ and the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ), was that the OMA fulfill three principles: accountability, no gaps in responsibility and effort, and achieving the state’s desired outcomes," Cantu-Schomus wrote in an e-mail. "We believe the signed OMA achieves those principles."

Aside from the cleanup of the manure and dead animals remaining on the property, the OMA also requires that the remaining cows—still numbering as many as 8,000, according to some reports—be removed from the facility. (An auction of the cows is part of a separate agreement with the trustee.) The agreement requires that Easterman must apply for a new CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) permit if he wants to reopen the dairy or, if he does not, that the dairy must be decommissioned "to the satisfaction of the ODA."

Emissions into air and water are problems for communities near industrial dairies.

A complicating factor for Easterman, if he decides to reopen the dairy or lease the facility to another operator, are SB 103 and SB 104, two bills before the legislature that seek a moratorium on approval of new dairy operations in the state and require establishment of regulations governing factory farm dairies that are already located, or that may want to locate, in Oregon.

Both bills apply to mega-dairies, that is, facilities with more than 700 cows that are confined without seasonal access to pasture, or a total of 2,500 cows—Lost Valley was originally permitted for 30,000 cows. The legislation would regulate these dairies as the industrial factories they are rather than treating them as traditional agricultural farms, and would require limits on toxic emissions to air and water, including groundwater. These bills would also require studies on the impacts to Oregon's small and mid-size dairies and on animal welfare and would close existing loopholes that allow excessive use of scarce groundwater, as well as establishing a course of action if a facility fails to meet state standards, as happened with Lost Valley Farm. (Follow the progress of the legislation in Your Food, Your Legislature postings here.)

The sale of Lost Valley makes the passage of these bills even more critical, according to Amy van Saun, a staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety.

"I think ODA realizes that Lost Valley was a giant problem, but the fixes they have suggested to the legislature at this point aren’t enough, in our minds, to fix the problem," van Saun wrote in an e-mail. "But [the ODA] realizes they need more oversight and are seeking it from legislature. The moratorium is all the more important now that once Lost Valley gets cleaned up, these owners may well want to restart dairy operations, and that could be within the year."

* * *

Read my series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened two years ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leak in a tank containing dead cows, plus massive groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and the farm's creditors, and former owner Greg te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

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