A lot of big changes are coming to a small piece of the Columbia Basin.
The tree farm alongside Interstate 84 that long hypnotized travelers is in the process of being removed and roughly one-third of it renovated into what could become Oregon’s second-largest dairy. Hale Farms, one of the biggest employers in the region, has sold to a conglomerate out of the Tri-Cities. The region, poised to pounce on new water from the Columbia River, is getting an infusion of new investment. That brings out the deep pockets, venture capitalists and the construction crews.
One such investment project is the proposed mega-dairy, currently being developed by Lost Valley Ranch. We’ve reported often on the plan to build a 30,000-cow facility near a 70,000-cow dairy that is already in operation. And we will continue to report in the future. Thousands of public comments have flooded into the state organizations (Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Agriculture) that are handling the siting and permitting process. The dairy’s future is certainly not a certainty.
But even without all the required operation permits in hand, the company has decided to start building. It has likely spent millions of dollars already on construction, design and dirt work. California developer Greg Te Velde told this newspaper they have already erected milk barns and stalls.
A number of environmental groups have cried foul, saying the company is getting ahead of regulators and attempting to circumvent the permitting process. The company contends it is just getting its ducks in a row, working in advance of an interminably long process and trying to be ready to operate as soon as they get the go ahead.
In our mind, the company is taking a risk by doing permitted building before they have an operations permit. To some of us, that might seem like an unnecessary risk. To others, it might be perfectly reasonable when considering the amount of money at stake. As long as the company stays within the law, we see no problem with building in advance of an operations permit.
Yet the environmental groups, and individuals from the area, are right to keep an eye on the company and the state. It may seem like it is tied up in a bureaucratic purgatory, with drawn out public comment periods and state offices conferring with other state offices. But actions taken at this time matter.
And one thing we are sure of: Any pre-manufacturing work by Lost Valley must have no impact in the state process. That work is done at the company’s risk, it cannot be used as leverage to allow them to jump through future hoops.
And hoops there will be.
The dairy has the ability to dramatically benefit the area — provide millions in tax dollars, lots of jobs and yes, milk and cheese. But it has the ability to negatively impact it as well. Cows produce more than milk, and the effect that 30,000 more of them will have on local water and air is something the state must consider.
Everything must be up for discussion, and a company that gets too far ahead of the process does so at its own risk.