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Idaho High Court Hears Big Sky Farms Lawsuit Appeal

Idaho High Court Hears Big Sky Farms Lawsuit Appeal

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BOISE • Five years have passed since a 13,000-animal feedlot in eastern Jerome County was proposed, spawning a battle between a private developer and supporters of a national historic site who called into question whether the county followed its own rules when originally granting the permits for the feedlot.

On Friday, the Idaho Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appeal of a 2008 civil case a group of opponents of the South View Dairy (formerly Big Sky Farms) filed against Jerome County commissioners. In August 2010, 5th District Judge Robert Elgee upheld county officials’ permitting of the feedlot, writing that the plaintiffs repeatedly failed to show that they were harmed or that the county acted in error.

The operation will be located about a 1 1/2 miles away from the Minidoka National Historic Site, former home of the Hunt Camp, which housed 13,000 Japanese Americans in more than 500 structures during World War II. Opponents of the feedlot who live more than a mile from the site challenged the constitutionality of a geographical limit on who could testify against the proposal.

If the feedlot is built, said Hanako Wakatsuki, chairwoman of Friends of Minidoka, it will “take away from the integrity of the story we are trying to tell.”

South View Dairy attorney John Lothspeich said his clients “have a right to develop their private property.”

The county originally denied the permit in 2007, but the Fifth District Court ruled commissioners erred in doing so and remanded the case back to the county. Commissioners approved the permit in 2008.

Eugene, Ore., attorney Charlie Tebbutt told the court the county failed to follow its own ordinances in approving the proposal, and even changed its policy to thwart due process for people who hoped to testify against the feedlot.

Tebbutt claimed that Jerome County drafted a new ordinance mandating written testimony be turned into the county seven days prior to the hearing, but enacted that requirement only five days prior to the feedlot hearing.

The county, following state statute that limited testimony to those who live within a mile from the proposed feedlot, disenfranchised many who would suffer from the facility, he said.

“Had that evidence been allowed to be entered into the record, the county would have had to deny the permit. Had they allowed everyone who would have been impacted to give evidence, they would have had to deny the permit,” said Dean Dimond, who owns property near the proposed feedlot. “They have a right to develop property, but not at a detriment to others.”

Lothspeich argued that the county offered, albeit for a limited time, all comers the ability to testify for or against the development.

The court will likely issue a ruling in about three months.


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