Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alaska Ag....that's some cachet

Cachet.....the first thought that may come to mind is the Matchibelli perfume of the same name. But in this case, they (Mike's Quality Meats) likely thought of this other definition:

"A quality of prestige or appeal" or similar. Whichever they were aiming for with the bucolic, sun drenched pastoral scenes, and snippets of happy, clean swine in the television ads, the reality is something quite different. 

They certainly do not reflect the lasting impression Rocket Ranch is having on their neighbors.

No, no, no, like Pepe' LePew of cartoon fame, the miasma of reeking piles of animal waste permeate the area. This clear cut property, with it's barns, fencing, shop, and no onsite caretaker, has truly, and literally, become a big stinker.

The reality of a CAFO on Lazy Mountain, just outside of Palmer, was not something that property owners had any notice about. The area is "rural, farming" only in that the parcels are slightly larger than the average subdivision (5 to 40 ac is common) mostly populated with a mix of retired and working folks who enjoy their privacy-with the occasional group or assisted living residence. Well known for its panoramic views, quiet, and yes, the howling scourge of Matanuska winds, people enjoy the feel of remoteness from the Valley floor and its busyness. Farm trucks are not uncommon as they make their way through the twists and turns to the larger farms further back towards the canyon and beyond. 

Trucks hauling 100s of hogs have now joined the ebb and flow of traffic.

Of the over 2,300 hogs imported by Mike's Quality Meats/Rocket Ranch/Greg Giannulis over a 16 month period (ending last year) only 867 were processed at MMM&S over the same period, according to a FOIA request fulfilled recently.  Providing that the figures supplied are correct-and there is no reason to doubt their validity-that means roughly 1400 swine have been processed through the Rocket Ranch custom exempt plant on Lazy Mountain. This is the plant that state employees helped to construct on their time off from MMM&S. Custom exempt is a classification that allows for onsite slaughter and processing after purchase, as long as the buyer has the resulting cuts marked "not for resale".  It's no stretch to say that the custom plant is paying off handsomely for MQM, and the customers. 

Except, of course, for Rocket Ranch neighbors. There is a legal limit to the hog waste that can be stored on the property, and it is substantial. The neighbors have no idea how they are handling all the waste generated, such as soiled bedding, the blood generated from slaughter, the entrails, and whatever else is created during processing. At MMM&S, this was handled by their waste water system and established, monitored procedures, but on Lazy Mountain? Who knows. Perhaps it is buried. Maybe it's tossed into a dumpster. But what is known, is that the property has literally chased people indoors due to the reeking stench, and that several wells and septic systems nearby have coincidentally failed. Are they connected for sure? That is unknown-but when the smell prevents a property owner from enjoying their property....that is cause for remedy.

According to statements the caretaker has made, there have been no complaints about the operation. But that is not accurate, not true at all. There have indeed, been many complaints made. To various state and borough offices, elected representatives, to other residents, to anyone who will listen.

In the Mat-Su Borough, Title 24, it's known as an "annoyance". Naturally, the regulation is written with the supposition that newcomers might find farms offensive (and this statute protects farms and their activities).....not the actual facts here where the new farm is creating the problem. Whether Rocket Ranch is violating statute there is up to Animal Control and Regulation office to determine. Wading through state and federal regulations is a tough slog, but there may be solutions to be found there as well.

This matter of a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) operating within sight and sound and particularly smell, of residential homes will no doubt arise more frequently, now that the MMM&S slaughter plant has moved into private hands, to be sure. 

You have to wonder though, about an unknown number of animals, unattended, on that property. Yes, unattended. There is no full time, onsite caretaker, although a young Giannulis is reportedly there every day. While their style of management may be within the statute of animal care regulations, it does give area residents more cause for concern. The wheels of government move excruciatingly slow, to be sure. But they do move. And if that does not suffice, there is always civil redress to consider. 

Whatever the outcome on Lazy Mountain, one thing is for sure:

Come spring, "Eau de Pigs" is sure to be wafting through the air. And downwind neighbors are sure to be very unhappy.

(Edited to add:  An alert reader let it be known that there is, in fact, onsite supervision 24/7. Thanks much for the email correction, it's appreciated!) 

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