Stricter Whatcom slaughterhouse rules aimed at ending legal challenge

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 5, 2014 

The latest version of rules governing slaughterhouses on farmland would limit the total number that could operate in Whatcom County.

This change and others, which go to a public hearing before the County Council on Tuesday, May 6, have been in the works since the council's new progressive majority began seeking settlement of a legal case against more permissive slaughterhouses rules approved last September.

"Some people want us to ban slaughterhouses altogether on the grounds they will proliferate ... and be a disaster," said council member Ken Mann, one of four councilors on the Democrat-endorsed ticket in the November 2013 elections. "Because there are all of these concerns out there, we are going to put a limit on them."

Council will vote on a final version of the rules as early as Tuesday night, immediately after the hearing.

Significant changes to the rules:

-- The limit on building size is 7,000 square feet.

-- The number of facilities allowed in Whatcom County is six - three slaughterhouses and three packinghouses, where animals are slaughtered and the meat is processed in some way, whether cured, smoked or otherwise.

-- Slaughterhouse applications would be approved by the county planning department. Neighbors within 1,000 feet of the proposed facility would be notified in advance.

Citizens Nicole Brown, Wendy Harris and Tip Johnson filed an appeal against the earlier version of the rules in November. They argued that allowing slaughterhouses on farmland violated county rules mandating the preservation of agriculture and the protection of water quality.

A hearing before the state Growth Management Hearings Board scheduled for March 31 was moved to June 16 to give negotiations more time.

Terry Wechsler, the attorney for the petitioners, said the latest ordinance was an improvement, but it wouldn't necessarily settle the dispute.

"We will review the final amended ordinance after it passes and determine how to proceed at that time," Wechsler said in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

The public hearing on the slaughterhouse rules begins shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

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

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