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JEROME — The developers of a proposed 13,000-animal feedlot in eastern Jerome County should be able to move forward with the project, barring any appeals of a recent court decision or a challenge by the National Park Service.

Fifth District Judge Robert Elgee on Aug. 3 upheld a county-issued permit for the controversial feedlot, writing that several parties that challenged it repeatedly failed to show sufficient evidence that they were harmed or that the county’s action was in error.

It’s the latest development in a three-year administrative and legal battle over the permit, first sought by Big Sky Farms and later transferred to South View Dairy. John Lothspeich, the attorney for both applicants, said Wednesday he was pleased that the judge applied the law and wrote a lengthy decision that covered all the bases.

The proposed feedlot was notable not only for its size, but also for its proximity to the Minidoka National Historic Site. The federal site, the former home of the Hunt Camp for Japanese-American detainees during World War II, is just more than 1 mile east of where the feedlot would be.

That 1-mile mark is significant in state law. In their appeal, neighbors of the feedlot site and a coalition of state and national advocacy groups challenged the constitutionality of a limit on comments at public hearings to speakers whose homes are within a 1-mile radius of a proposed confined-animal feeding operation.

Elgee agreed that property farther away can be affected by such facilities, but wrote that the plaintiffs provided no persuasive evidence for him to counter a legislative act.

County commissioners allowed anyone to briefly comment on the permit at a public hearing in 2007. But that didn’t give those people outside the distance restriction the legal right to comment, Elgee ruled, and therefore they also had no right to due process, regardless of circumstance. That ruling hamstrung plaintiffs such as Wayne Sloan, who owns property within 300 yards of the feedlot site but doesn’t live there.

Plaintiff attorney Charlie Tebbutt said the judge’s decision trampled private property rights and didn’t help protect the historic site. The county’s mistakes were “all over the board,” Tebbutt said, and the county attorney made mistakes that the judge should have corrected.

“One commissioner got it and the other two punted,” Tebbutt said. “The commission blew it, period.”

Elgee recognized the legal standing of Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment and the Idaho Rural Council because they represent members who live on affected property.

The same did not apply to the Friends of Minidoka or the National Trust for Historic Preservation because the Minidoka site is outside the distance limit. Though the National Park Service wasn’t a party in the appeal, Wendy Janssen, supervisor of the historic site, said the agency continues to be concerned about the feedlot’s effects and will discuss its next step with attorneys this week.

“We want people to know that we aren’t against” such facilities, Janssen said. “But the historic site belongs to all Americans, and it will negatively affect their experience.”

Jerome County Commissioner Charlie Howell wasn’t aware of the decision Wednesday, saying it came as a bit of a surprise. The county’s attorney advised commissioners in 2008 that they had to approve the application if it met all ordinance requirements, he said. Since then, the county has rewritten its CAFO ordinance, submitted it for public approval and will vote on it soon.

“I don’t know if the application would pass under the new requirements,” Howell said. “It’s been three years and it’s hard to remember different applications.”

Tebbutt said he’ll discuss the possibility of appeal with his clients. Even if they don’t appeal, Tebbutt said, the feedlot still needs other permits that he can challenge.

“But this application should have been stopped in its tracks at the local level,” he said.

Laura Lundquist may be reached at llundquist@magicvalley.com or 735-3376.

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