Environmentalists slam slaughterhouse rules; Whatcom council delays vote

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 7, 2014 

The Whatcom County Council was ready on Tuesday, May 6, to approve new slaughterhouse rules intended to appease environmentalists who had challenged the old rules, adopted by a more conservative council eight months ago.

All the council and county planning staff managed to do, however, was displease the appellants even further. Staff didn't fill out required environmental paperwork.

Council earlier this year proposed allowing slaughterhouses in more areas, spreading the risk of environmental damage, the appellants said. Earlier versions of the ordinance opened up farmland to slaughtering. The latest version added industrial land.

County long-range planning manager Mark Personius said staff had already done the environmental review. It just needed to be documented.

"Maybe it's fatigue of having done this for so long ... but that's the step we missed for you tonight," Personius said.

An ordinance allowing slaughterhouses on farmland has been in the works for two years. The issue first went before the council's Planning Commission in June 2012. The planning department will try to get the environmental paperwork done in time for the council's next meeting, in two weeks.

State law requires local governments to study the environmental impacts of proposed rule changes where such impacts can be anticipated. Possible impacts of introducing slaughterhouses on farmland include the loss of prime soil and contamination of the water supply - the very subjects of the appeal filed in November 2013 by Nicole Brown, Tip Johnson and Wendy Harris.

After criticism from the appellants in emails and at Tuesday's public hearing, council scuttled plans to vote on the slaughterhouse ordinance that night.

The appellants said council would do more environmental harm with this version of the rules than even the most business-friendly of the earlier versions.

One of the fatal flaws of the latest version, in the appellants' view, was council's decision to allow slaughterhouses in more places, specifically on land zoned industrial. While council was conscientious about limiting the size and number of facilities on farmland, no such limits were included in the other zones. This opened the door for unwanted, large-scale slaughterhouses, the appellants said.

"You're undermining the original intent of this proposal, which was to help small farmers," Harris said during the public hearing.

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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