Almost 20 people told Franklin County planning commissioners on Tuesday that they should approve Case VanderMeulen's request to keep up to 3,500 cows on his property.
A smaller number of neighbors asked commissioners to vote no on VanderMeulen's request, citing concerns about smell.
The planning commission decided to recommend that Franklin County commissioners approve the permit in a 5-1 vote.
The property east of Highway 395 is about two miles from Coulee Flats Dairy, where VanderMeulen and his employees milk 4,400 cows three times daily, producing about 40,000 gallons of milk a day.
VanderMeulen told the Herald he plans to accommodate about 1,800 heifers for now, with room to expand. But he asked for 3,500 head on the conditional-use permit so he has room to expand without going through the permitting process again.
He already has a small facility on the property and can keep less than 1,000 heifers on the property without the permit.
He said the conditional-use permit would allow him to keep calves on his property until their immune systems get stronger. He told the Herald previously that he plans to add better facilities for the young calves to live in until they get to be about 5 months old and between 400 and 500 pounds.
Basin City farmer Jochen Engelke urged the planning commission to recommend approval for VanderMeulen's proposal.
"This is a freedom to farm county where agriculture is our dominant industry," he said.
Dust and smell are byproducts of producing food for the rest of the country, he said. But farmers such as VanderMeulen have made great strides in the last few decades to hold dust down and be good stewards of natural resources.
And the new well for the project would not impair or negatively affect existing nearby wells, said Darryll Olsen, a resource economist for the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association. The well will draw about 100 gallons of water per minute from the basalt Grande Ronde aquifer, and will be cased through the higher basalt Wanapum aquifer, he said.
The new well is allowed under state law, Olsen said. The state Supreme Court recently agreed with Easterday Ranches and a ruling by Franklin County Superior Court, saying that state law does not limit the amount of ground water that can be tapped for livestock from a permit-exempt well.
Five Corners Family Farmers, the same group that took Easterday Ranches to court, questioned water effect, air quality, health and property enjoyment with VanderMeulen's proposal in one of three letters of opposition the county received prior to the public hearing. The complaints were similar to those the group made about Easterday Ranches' new feedlot.
Jim Riddell said in an email that the proposal would negatively affect his proposed Tullamoor development in Connell because of the smell. Tullamoor is expected to include more than 2,000 homes as well as golf courses, an RV resort and commercial development.
Three people voiced opposition during the public hearing, voicing concerns about smell.
John Hilmes of Mesa said he felt VanderMeulen's dairy was too close to the city of Mesa, and would add to a stench that sometimes gets bad enough in town to make his eyes water.
VanderMeulen told the planning commission his dairy operation brings a lot to the community. And while there may be some odors from his dairy, he said he does his best to limit the smell. "I think we are doing a pretty clean job," he said.
Multiple supporters told the planning commission that VanderMeulen runs a high-quality dairy.
Jared Easterday of Easterday Ranches described VanderMeulen's dairy as a top-notch operation.
"I can't see a better way to bring some more diversity to our county," he said.
If no one appeals the planning commission's recommendation during the 10-day appeal period, the permit will go to Franklin County commissioners for final approval.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org