PASCO -- Franklin County officials heard the other side of the seasonal farmworker housing plan Monday as the Farm Bureau and project supporters described the need for adequate and affordable facilities.
County commissioners met last week with Ringold-area residents who opposed the 100-bed project and discussed writing a letter to the state's Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development asking it to set money for the housing aside while questions about the project are resolved.
Those residents expressed fears that the housing would lead to an increase in traffic accidents, drive up labor costs for other farming operations and bring higher crime rates.
But on Monday supporters gathered at the Franklin County courthouse to address those fears and answer the Franklin commissioners' questions before a letter is written to the state.
The commissioners didn't make a final decision on writing the letter Monday, nor did they discuss it further.
"We just wanted a chance to explain our side of the story and explain where we're at in the plan," said David Manterola, a Franklin County Farm Bureau board member.
Todd Merrill, who rents housing on his property to his farm workers, said he never has had any major problems with his tenants.
"They like their Coronas once in a while, but with good management there won't be too much of a problem," he said.
The Farm Bureau bought 10 acres just north of the Road 170 and Ringold Road intersection from the Bureau of Reclamation in April and plans to build 12 duplexes there that can each house up to eight workers, families or single individuals who come for seasonal harvests such as cherries or asparagus. An on-site manager would oversee the operation.
In the past, many of those workers have camped on state land at Ringold, where there have been conflicts with fishermen and problems with waste disposal.
Because the project is for temporary farmworkers and would be in a rural area, it's exempt from county zoning rules and wouldn't require county commission approval.
But Manterola said, "We've kept them informed of what's going on with this project."
He said although the commissioners don't have legal authority over the project, if they told the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development not to grant the Farm Bureau the money the application probably would be denied.
The department is in the second phase of reviewing the application for funding the project, and preliminary designs are complete.
All three commissioners spoke in favor of the housing plan, and commission chairman Rick Miller said he wouldn't sign the discussed letter if it were written.
Commissioner Brad Peck agreed the housing is needed, but expressed concern over success of the project.
"If it's too expensive, it won't be filled. If it's not filled, it becomes a burden," he said.
"I'm confident that we can pull this off," he said. "But whatever we do it has to be successful."