Whatcom council may tighten slaughterhouse rules

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 10, 2014 

Some Whatcom County Council members hope to settle a challenge to farmland slaughterhouses by temporarily closing the door to quick approval of the facilities, which were legalized just five months ago.

The council will hold a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 11, on a temporary ordinance requiring all applications for slaughterhouses on agricultural land to go before the county hearing examiner. The examiner would give each application additional scrutiny and would give the public a chance to speak at a hearing on the application.

Tuesday's council hearing starts shortly after 7 p.m. at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

The temporary ordinance would tighten rules the council approved in September 2013 allowing slaughterhouses on farmland. Facilities smaller than 7,000 square feet do not require a public hearing under the current rules.

Council Chairman Carl Weimer said the new ordinance, if approved Tuesday, would advance negotiations with the group that challenged farmland slaughterhouses before the state Growth Management Hearings Board. Citizens Nicole Brown, Wendy Harris and Tip Johnson filed a petition with the board in November, arguing that expanding slaughterhouses to farmland violated county rules mandating the preservation of agriculture and the protection of water quality.

The case is scheduled to go before the hearings board on March 31. If a settlement can be reached, next month's hearing would not be needed.

"This was certainly a hopeful attempt to meet (the petitioners') needs," Weimer said of the temporary ordinance. "I don't know if this goes far enough for them."

In an email to The Bellingham Herald, Terry Wechsler, attorney for the petitioners, said the ordinance would not meet any settlement demands; it only would allow talks to begin.

"To date, there have been no settlement discussions. We'll know after next week if we're proceeding to the hearing," Wechsler wrote.

Two of the council members who supported the 2013 ordinance were voted out of office in November. They were replaced by Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan - political allies of Weimer and Ken Mann, both of whom opposed the original ordinance.

"I think that ordinance was a victim of election-year politics, and is poorly written and poorly conceived," Mann said. "If we can really take a fresh look at it, we will be able to come up with language that will allow a few small farm slaughterhouses with all the appropriate environmental protections."

Council member Sam Crawford, who voted for the 2013 ordinance, said he was disappointed the issue was being revisited.

"I don't think the appellants have much of a case," Crawford said. "It seems to me it would be wise to wait until after the hearings board decided on it before we make any changes."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2289. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

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