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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Public records in private hiding

In recent years, mega-dairies have sprouted in Idaho like mushrooms after a warm rain. These are not bucolic little family farms where Bossie grazes placidly in belly-high grass.

They are industrial installations where thousands of bovine inhabitants live out short confined lives in concrete and steel facilities. They produce tons of manure and thousands of gallons of wastewater each year, which are far from benign in these amounts.

Nonetheless, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne just signed a new law that will make dairy and feedlot nutrient management plans invisible to the public. The plans describe how manure and other wastes generated by such operations are stored, treated and disposed of.

The new law puts what should be public records in a public place into private hiding at the dairies and feedlots. It directs the state to keep no record of the plans after they are approved.

The reason? The governor and the state Department of Agriculture say they have no room to store them.

Any Idahoan who believes that will soon be investing in Arizona oasis properties or talking to a man about buying a bridge in Brooklyn.

The Legislature amended the law over the objections of just a handful of legislators, including District 25 Rep. Wendy Jaquet and Sen. Clint Stennet. Industrial dairies and feedlots have been driven from other states by stricter and stricter regulations. Every nose in southern Idaho knows where they went and why they need regulation.

Dairy and feedlot wastes are not benign. Handled poorly, they can contaminate groundwater or create eye-watering odors. Odors can drive down the value of nearby homes or aggravate allergies. Contamination can foul drinking water.

The public has a right to know what’s in waste plans and be able to learn whether regulation is working. But with the plans in hiding, it will hard to find out.

The public will be left with only its nose for information and to date the nose knows one thing: This smells bad.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.