Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Sheep corrals inside Carey raise stink

Bill for urban control dies in House agriculture committee

Express Staff Writer

The neighbors of Carey sheep ranchers Jim and Pete Cenarrusa have run out of patience over how they've been conducting business at their confined sheep operation within the city's limits. But not even their representative in the Legislature has been able to dispel their frustrations.

Last April, each of the Cenarrusas signed separate but related voluntary agreements to clean up piles of manure from adjacent sheep operations located on the northeast corner of Carey.

But as a response to an apparent lack of compliance with the best management practices drawn up for the Cenarrusas by the Blaine County Extension Agent Ron Thaemert, House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, attempted to introduce legislation that would have given the city power to enforce compliance over sheep operations. However, the powerful agriculture lobby in Boise shot down the proposed bill for local control on Monday before it made it out of the House Agriculture Committee.

"Last Thursday I asked to have it printed," Jaquet said, adding that only one Republican committee member voted in favor of the printing. "In the jargon of the Legislature, it would be called dead."

Neighbors have complained about the nuisance of dust and odor and the aesthetic look of the Cenarrusas' sheep operation. Concerns about ground water contamination have also been raised.

Department of Environmental Quality officials have been monitoring the operation in recent years for water and air quality. They are charged with addressing the issue if any contamination is found, said Doug Howard, the DEQ regional administrator for environmental quality based in Twin Falls.

Howard said that, although the Cenarrusa operations predate city development, Thaemert's best management practices agreements were intended to address the conflicts arising as urbanization occurs around the farm.

Thaemert said Jim Cenarrusa is simply behind schedule, in part due to weather, in removing and spreading manure as fertilizer. Howard, however, said, judging by the size of the piles remaining on the property, the Cenarrusas have not complied. The best management practices include removing all bedding and fecal materials and spreading them as fertilizer on fields in close proximity.

Thaemert said it is common practice to pile manure and hay stems unpalatable to sheep, which together become bedding for the animals as the edges dry.

"That's a nice sheep operation and they're working hard to follow best management practices," Thaemert said, expressing a different viewpoint than neighbors, Jaquet or the DEQ. "I'd hate to see the city take control of that operation."

Cattle rancher and Carey Schoolteacher Lee Cook said in his view the problem with the congestion of sheep began three years ago when the Cenarrusas stopped trucking their animals out of state for the winter.

"They took their sheep to Blythe, California, for many years," Cook said, explaining that development pressure in California and higher trucking costs have made wintering in Carey cheaper.

Bu as Mayor Rick Baird explained, and other citizens have affirmed, the confined sheep operation, concentrating some 6,000 to 7,000 animals in a small area near residential property on the north end of the city, is taking a toll on the environment and neighbors' quality of life.

"We have no control over it," Baird said, explaining that there are no enforcement rules that can be imposed on the Cenarrusas. He added that even if Jaquet's bill had been passed, he didn't know how the city council might have acted, considering the tight-knit community and basic respect neighbors have for the Cenarrusas. Pete Cenarrusa served as Idaho Secretary of State for more than three decades.

Baird and Cook both said the community embraces the traditional rural character of the pioneer city. They view agricultural operations as an asset. However, Ray Baird, the mayor's father, explained that, given the changing nature of the community, as a rancher it is important to adapt.

"I hate to get in the center of the controversy, but you know I'm a rancher myself. So, I don't think they should be able to stop (sheep operations in the city), but, I do feel strongly there should be rules about best practices. It seems to me that right now no agency in the state can control these things," Ray Baird said. He explained that in his operation he ensures that manure is disked into fields where crops can take up the nutrients.

The Cenarrusa operation has larger piles of manure than exist on neighboring operations.

"In time, I know they're not going to put up with that forever, and they're going to run me off right along with him," Baird said, hopeful that his neighbor will improve his operation.

At least two manure fires have started on the property. The DEQ investigated both. One firefighter was injured after falling through a hallow spot in a pile he was trying to extinguish in 2003.

Other related problems surround ground water contamination, which DEQ tests show to be contaminated with nitrates from both animal and human feces, Howard said. DEQ is looking to the city to remedy the public health risk by connecting adjacent homes to city water and sewer services and doing away with septic systems, which have contributed to the problem.

"On the animal side it's not just Cenarrusa," Howard said. "You'll see horses, cows and sheep out there. We felt that the best way to (deal with it) was to help people with best management practices ... collect (the manure), plow it so it degrades naturally, rather than (allow it to) concentrate and pond up and hit surface water or get into the ground."

A paragraph in Jim Cenarrusa's agreement states that mechanical distribution of manure fertilizer should be completed in the fall and early spring.

"He has not met the spirit of that paragraph," Howard said.

Stemming from the problem with high nitrates in the water, Jaquet said part of her frustration is that in her view the state is not doing enough to remedy the problem.

"The state is giving courtesy to agriculture," Jaquet said. "People really like (Pete Cenarrusa). I like Pete. (Introducing the bill) I never mentioned the Cenarrusa name. Now, I will."

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