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Wilder feedlot receives OK to expand from 6,000 cattle to 12,000

The decision resolves the contentious issue after months of discussion.
Credit: Jake King/Idaho Press
“No trespassing” signs surround the property of a cattle feedlot in Wilder on Friday, June 18, 2021.

WILDER, Idaho — Editor's Note: This article was originally published by the Idaho Press.

A feedlot in Wilder will gain permission to expand from 6,000 head of cattle to 12,000. Though unofficial until paperwork is signed, the Canyon County commissioners unanimously voted Monday afternoon that they will do so.

The decision resolves the contentious issue after months of discussion. In February, the Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission denied the proposal. On July 13, about 60 people filled the commissioners’ meeting room for a public hearing. Substantial testimony came both in support and opposition of the feedlot’s expansion.

Last week, the commissioners delayed a decision once again because they needed more time to review the conditions for approval.

Ultimately, the three elected commissioners Keri Smith, Pam White and Leslie Van Beek agreed Monday to approve the Peckham Road Trust’s appeal for a conditional use permit as long as 20 conditions are met. In addition to doubling the number of cattle, the feedlot, known as Wilder Cattle Feeders, plans to grow from nine parcels of land to 13.

The conditions include stipulations such as a timeline for the construction. The expansion must begin within three years and be completed within five years. Some conditions specify certain things must be in place before expansion construction can begin.

White said she felt the commissioners conditioned the site “aptly,” because they took “extra caution” in response to the project’s opposition.

“It is an ag project in an ag area,” White said. “… You could almost say we’ve nitpicked them.”

The feedlot’s managers and representation argued the expansion was needed in order to grow their business to afford modern technology to address neighbors’ concerns. The location is also zoned for agriculture by Canyon County even though it’s in the city of Wilder’s impact area and listed for future residential use.

Opposition came from neighbors who said the property has not contained dust, odor and flies over the years. That contributed to the lengthy discussions about the language of the conditions and when they must be met. Environmentalists also opposed the project because of worries that the feedlot’s expansion could pollute nearby water sources.

Among the conditions is a requirement for the applicant, the Peckham Road Trust, to install a sprinkler system by Sept. 1, 2022. That’s intended to ease the neighbors’ issues.

The Idaho Department of Agriculture is assigned to inspect the property annually and the feedlot owners must then submit a copy of that report to the county. When discussing the conditions last week, the commissioners decided this would be the main method to enforce the newly imposed rules.

A feedlot has existed on the Peckham and Fish roads site since at least the 1960s. Canyon County previously set conditions, similar to the sprinkler system and other practices, for the site both in 2004 and 2008. Neighbors argue those conditions weren’t met and that’s why enforcement and specific language relating to the conditions became a sticking point.

“Who is the ordinance police?” White questioned last week.

Ownership changed in 2015 and a hefty portion of the testimony on July 13 was in support of John Hepton’s management practices with the feedlot. Hepton has been an operator at the feedlot known as Wilder Cattle Feeders for the past two years. The property has no violations since 2015.

When the proposal was initially denied, the Planning and Zoning Commission pointed to proximity to houses, possible water contamination and potential added traffic congestion as the reasons why.

Robert Sturgill, the planning and zoning commission’s chairman, said it was one of the most extensive cases he’d dealt in four years on the commission. The staff report before the July 13 hearing had 1,832 pages.

The draft of the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order presented Monday showed that the county commissioners concluded the proposal is consistent with the Canyon County Future Land Use Map, which designates the area for agriculture. The draft also showed the commissioners concluded the proposed use would not hurt nearby property, won’t negatively change the essential character of the area and it won’t interfere with traffic patterns.

That’s a contradiction from the Planning and Zoning Commission, which previously concluded the use is not consistent with the comprehensive plan, has the potential to negatively change the essential character of the area and there may be “undue interference” with traffic.

At the end of Monday’s hearing, Smith said opponents of the proposal have 14 days to ask the county commissioners to reconsider.

Paul Schwedelson covers growth, Nampa and Caldwell. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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