Ron Butler makes a presentation against allowing a wild horse facility in eastern Laramie County during the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, inside the Historic Courthouse in Cheyenne. The commissioners heard public comment on whether to change the CAFO regulations to allow the facility. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – In Laramie County, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations currently need the approval of neighbors within a 3-mile radius of the proposed site.

But the Laramie County Board of Commissioners is looking to lower that distance to one mile, which would allow South Dakota-based Equine Elite to build a wild horse facility in eastern Laramie County and operate it for the Bureau of Land Management.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing today on an Odor Footprint Tool that’s used in determining appropriate CAFO regulations to aid in their decision.

The tool developed by the University of Nebraska “provides objective, science-based information of the risk-based impact of odors generated by livestock facilities,” according to a university report. But at the commissioners’ March 17 meeting, a number of residents voiced concern about the tool and the negative effects a CAFO would have on their properties.

“We want to do what’s absolutely best for Laramie County. So the question is what else is there to consider?” Commissioner Troy Thompson said at the meeting.

The commissioners have been debating the regulation change for months, spurred by a suggestion by Equine Elite. The proposed facility would hold wild horses captured by the Bureau of Land Management, and due to the number of horses, it would be considered a CAFO.

When the company couldn’t get approval from its neighbors in a three-mile radius due to concerns about air and water quality, it turned to the commissioners to adjust the requirements.

Residents in the three-mile radius have consistently voiced their disapproval for the measure, citing effects on air and water quality, loss of property value and increased traffic.

The state of Wyoming only requires CAFOs to get the approval of neighbors within a one-mile radius, which is what Equine Elite proposed. The Laramie County regulation was changed decades ago when a swine CAFO was proposed in the county.

“The current regulations were put on the books for a very good reason,” Joanne Sandburg told the Planning Commission several weeks ago. “It was needed to ensure the residents of Laramie County would have some protection for their excellent way of life that Wyoming offers.”

In their extensive discussions, the issue commissioners have returned to repeatedly is that the previous regulation change was arbitrary, being based on the specific operation, rather than scientific data. In their search for better data to inform their decision, the commissioners discovered the Odor Footprint Tool.

Still, residents questioned the data used in the footprint tool and said it didn’t go far enough to protect them from the CAFO’s effects.

Ron Butler told the commission that using this tool leaves air and water quality regulations to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, which he said abrogates the responsibility to protect residents.

“This proposal provides no avenue for monitoring of odor mitigation practices, no enforcement provisions and no penalty clauses for failure to comply,” Butler said. “If there were good data, this scientific odor footprint tool might be a laudable option. However, this is not the case.”

The Odor Footprint Tool factors in data from the location and its weather, as well as the number of livestock at a proposed operation. Due to a lack of a Wyoming-specific model, the predictions for the Laramie County CAFO would be based on weather in Alliance, Nebraska.

“I’m in complete and utter agreement that it’s not the best science,” Thompson said. “But we have anecdotal evidence that this was done to eliminate capitalism Laramie County, (and) I am remarkably uncomfortable with that. We’re an agricultural state.”

In their research, the commissioners found that only six pockets in the county would be welcoming to a CAFO. While the measure was proposed by Equine Elite, Commission Chairman Gunnar Malm said the regulation change also applies to all CAFOs that would want to locate in Laramie County in the future.

“We have effectively outlawed CAFOs in Laramie County,” Malm said.

The commissioners will likely decide whether to move forward with the Odor Footprint Tool at today’s meeting. If you’d like to comment on the tool, you can do so at https://tinyurl.com/public-comment.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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