TORRINGTON – Following at least five years of complaints to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and numerous pleas to the Goshen County Commissioners and Goshen County Planning Commission, residents of the area along Power Plant Road south of Lingle were among the audience of 16 concerned individuals who listened Tuesday morning, Sept. 12, as the Goshen County Commissioners dashed their hopes for relief from they called environmental and aesthetic intrusions on their lives.
At issue was the approval, or not, of the operation permit for the Lewis Feedlot next to the Lingle-Veteran Road south of Lingle. The permit, to be approved after meeting regulations of the Wyoming DEQ, county planning commission, and county commission, gives feedlot owner Robert Lewis permission to feed 2,500 head of cattle at the feedlot.
Neighbors complain that he is, or has been, ignoring conditions of the permit, which over time has led to bad relations within the rural community.
One of the most vocal opposition neighbors is Ron Stuckert, who lives across a fence and uses an adjoining access road to get to his property. Complaints range from the accumulation of dirt on the road, as well as the placement of bales there, which Lewis could alleviate, according to Stuckert, in addition to lack of control of excess water after heavy rain events.
Other complaints, not only from Stuckert, include the number of flies that become pests at surrounding homes, as well as the odor from what they claim is an excess number of cattle, violating the permit Lewis has had over the years.
Neighbors are also concerned about polluted ground water in their domestic wells, which have been tested, but at that time had shown no signs of pollution.
The feedlot was built in 2001-02, when a replacement dairy heifer operation, not to exceed 999 head, was approved. The young heifers were to be shipped to large dairies in other regions of the United States.
However, operations changed over the years, and neighbors claim that number has been consistently violated, but DEQ has not taken any action to correct the situation.
Neighbors also complained to the commissioners that Goshen County is taxing the entire operation as pasture, rather than including some of the property as a feedlot operation.
Numerous other issues over the years supposedly included communications from the county attorney to bring the operation into compliance or face penalties, but the neighbors claim the issue died without
According to Stuckert, 14 households would be affected if the feedlot numbers increase. All but four homes were built before the original feedlot, he said.
For his part, Lewis, who did not speak during the commissioners’ meeting, later said he believes he has met the permit requirements.
Explaining the Commission’s decision to approve the latest permit, Chairman Carl Rupp said, “The commission does not investigate applications, but acts on the recommendations of the county planning commission. Therefore, the permit is approved.”
Explaining the planning commission’s action, its chairman, Gary Childs, said they followed the guidelines set forth by the State of Wyoming, some of which he read during the meeting. This led to the planning commission recommending approval of the permit to the County
Planning Commission member Mark LeGrand related some of his efforts to determine whether the permit should be issued. In addition to taking measurements of the property, on the ground, he also flew over the property three times taking pictures and documenting features from
“My decision was based on that,” he said. He also noted that some of the complaining parties claimed to have had reports from the DEQ that indicated contaminated water, but had “gotten rid” of them rather than filing for future use.
“That makes it hearsay, and unsubstantiated claims,” LeGrand said, explaining why that information was not part of his decision making.
However, he added that Stuckert was the only one of the protestors who had attended meetings, and the only one who had formally complained.
“If their lives were disrupted, they should have made a formal complaint,” he said. “We have to go by
County Commissioner Wally Wolski addressed the meeting by saying, “We look out for everybody’s interest. The Planning Commission does the due diligence. Bob Taylor (county surveyor) makes sure the subdivision meets the criteria, and makes his recommendation. Gary Childs and the planning commission go through the list and check off their
“They (planning commission members) are completely independent,” he said in reference to a comment from a member of the audience, who questioned whether members of the planning commission were being influenced by their occupations in the community.
Assistant County Attorney Dana Lent said the planning commission is not permitted to consider whether people feel they have not been heard and how it affects their property.
“The planning commission can only consider whether he (Lewis) has complied as required” to obtain the permit, she explained.
Regarding comments from the audience, complaining Commissioners weren’t doing their job in some cases, Wolski said there is a big misconception about county government in Wyoming.
“We are restricted in what we can do,” Wolski said, referring to not being allowed to tell other county departments how to run their operations. This was in response to the appropriate taxing question brought up earlier in the discussion.
Commissioner John Ellis added, “I could have personal feelings, but I have to go by the rules. And don’t think we don’t lay awake at night thinking about this, but we have to follow the rules.”
Rupp said he believes the dispute is not going to go away, though it might if the two parties would be more neighborly with each other.
“But this is exactly where we are,” he concluded, as he closed the meeting.