News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Lawmakers discuss J-S Ranch as farm moves forward

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

The owner of a proposed chicken ranch near Scio and an activist lobbying to block the farm testified before a state senate committee recently as the ranch crosses regulatory hurdles toward completion.

Eric Simon, owner of J-S Ranch, and Kendra Kimbirauskas, organizer of Farmers Against Foster Farms (FAFF), spoke to the Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery during an informational meeting June 2 over Zoom.

Kendra Kimbirauskas
Kendra Kimbirauskas
Eric Simon
Eric Simon

Both were among residents and businesspeople who made the case that large-scale poultry operations had a significant impact on the Pacific Northwest, though in very different ways.

Simon said they are an important part of the local food supply and help grocers keep up with consumer demand for fresh, local poultry. He said, though farms like J-S Ranch can grow millions of birds annually, growers still want to create conditions ideal for each animal.

“A happy, healthy bird makes a grower money,” said Simon. “Uncomfortable, sick or dead birds don’t.”

However Kimbirauskas argued such operations create dangerous levels of ammonia in the air and water table, which Simon refutes, and that regulations are currently too lax to manage these threats effectively. She urged lawmakers to take action and create a process that considers not only the function of a commercial chicken farm, but its scale and the impact multiple large farms would have on an area. 

“We just feel we’ve been doing so much to bring people to our communities, we feel that this kind of industry is not conducive for our rural communities’ resiliency,” said Kimbirauskas.

Committee Chair Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) said he would like to form a workgroup to investigate whether or not the committee should propose a related bill during the 2023 legislative session, emphasizing the need to gather input from both sides of the issue.

“We’re not going to make much progress if that doesn’t happen,” said Golden.

Ranch receives permit approval

The meeting came one week after the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality granted Simon a permit May 26 allowing operation of a large poultry facility. Simon applied for the permit in 2020 shortly after purchasing the ranch along Jordan-Scio Road and was required to document how he would safely manage chicken manure and other animal waste, wastewater, and noxious smells.

Regulators sought public comment for the application between August and October 2021, including a virtual town hall Oct. 21, 2021, attended by 114 individuals. By that time FAFF had organized a deluge of opposition and the vast majority of comments received by regulators were against Simon’s application.

FAFF has appealed the May 26 decision, and on June 10 sent an email to supporters declaring their intent to oppose all permits for J-S Ranch including a construction permit from DEQ, a road access permit from Linn County, and water supply plan from Oregon’s Water Resources Department. Organizers have acknowledged lawmakers do not have grounds to deny these permits if J-S Ranch meets all their requirements, but said this is evidence that the laws need to be changed and they intend to campaign until regulations are revised.

“While we are not happy that these permits have been or are going to be issued, the important thing to know is that our fight is not over and we will continue to challenge the siting of J-S Ranch with every opportunity,” said FAFF.

Simon said he does not believe regulators will change course after so much time and effort has already been spent evaluating his application and he does not believe they will be swayed by FAFF’s arguments.

“It’s just a stall tactic,” he said. “Obviously, the Department of Ag has slow-walked this very carefully for two years now, so this isn’t something we jumped onto and said, ‘We need to issue this permit.’ This has been a very, very careful, long process to get this done, so we don’t expect any changes from this appeal.”

Owner says critics are misled

Simon said he is frustrated FAFF has gained so much traction using arguments he sees as misleading and sensationalist. Having lived for 21 years on a large-scale chicken farm in Brownsville, Simon said neither he nor his neighbors have encountered the health concerns described by FAFF, including breathing problems from ammonia and livestock dust.

“People in town don’t even know there’s a [commercial chicken] farm in Brownsville,” he said, adding his daughter was married at the farm and “nobody said anything about it.”

Simon conceded there are days when the smell does become an issue, such as when the animals are being loaded for shipment or on particularly hot days, but that such eventualities are simply part of agriculture. He added there are already large chicken ranches throughout the region that operate unnoticed by most residents.

“There are millions of birds raised at any given time all throughout the Willamette Valley,” he said. “Where’s the complaints? Where’s the issues we’re having there?”

Simon said, if he could speak to FAFF supporters, he would ask them to consider the thorough review his proposed waste management plan received and accept that the state and J-S Ranch performed their due diligence.

“We’ve done two years of this process,” he said. “Accept the ruling and move on.”

However Kimbirauskas said FAFF will not be standing down, reiterating their goal to revise the laws so operations like J-S Ranch cannot be established without greater oversight.

“If we thought the agency had performed due diligence, we wouldn’t have the need to challenge the permit,” she said. “But the reality is this location is completely inappropriate for a mega poultry operation and in our opinion the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s CAFO permit is neither protective of our rivers or our groundwater. We will continue to utilize every tool we have to challenge the siting of mega poultry operations on our prime farmland and next to our rivers.”

Simon said his concern is that FAFF doesn’t want to see commercial chicken farms established at all, and he is being targeted because of larger frustrations with commercial agriculture.

“Right from the get go, they told me that their goal was to bankrupt me,” said Simon. “…It’s just terrible what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to make an example of me so future expansion won’t happen.”

Both sides moving forward

As of press time, a future meeting of the Senate Interim Committee On Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery had yet to be scheduled. FAFF has encouraged supporters to continue lobbying elected local officials, describing their efforts as “not a sprint, but a marathon.”

Some local officials have taken up FAFF’s cause, including the Aumsville City Council which approved signing a letter June 13 urging Gov. Kate Brown to consider the environmental and economic impacts of large-scale poultry farms. The letter described many of the concerns FAFF has put forward regarding air and water pollution, and lax regulatory oversight.

Simon said, with the state permit in hand, he plans to begin construction as soon as the weather clears, and would like to have J-S Ranch operational by the end of 2022.

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