Friday, March 23, 2012

Duquette's Plan Likely to "Absolutely Devastate" Oregon Communities

Animal Law

Umatilla River flowing thru proposed horse slaughter siteDave Duquette is a rabidly pro-horse slaughter cohort of Wyoming state Rep. Sue Wallis, and together they are roaming the U.S. hoping to open horse slaughter houses. Duquette previously formed a 501c3 non-profit called "United Horsemen" and with Wallis, he has organized a business venture called "Unified Equine LLC".  UH collects donations basically to promote horse slaughter. Somehow Duquette believes this qualifies as a "charity" with the IRS. 
Unified Equine LLC is based in Wallis' hometown of Recluse, Wyoming and recently distributed these materials in the Mountain Grove, Missouri community about plans to build a horse slaughter plant there. That proposal was overwhelmingly defeated, and a local attorney has accused UE of possible fraud in solicitations to investors in the proposed horse slaughter plant.
(The accusation is similar to complaints filed with Wyoming authorities and the Wyoming House of Representatives against Wallis about the various pro-horse slaughter operations she and Duquette have formed over the years.) 
One of the complaints made in the letter is that UE planned to invest no money in the facility. And, Chevidico, a Belgian based company that owns and operates horse slaughter facilities worldwide, was more interested in a lease than acquiring an ownership interest in any property to operate the facility. Chevidico was only interested in a turnkey project and would put no money into building the facility. That would leave investors solicited by UE with all the risk.
Duquette's quarter horse breeding ranchDuquette who lives in Hermiston, Oregon and holds himself out alternatively as a quarter horse breeder or horse trainer, has expressed interest in buying one of two properties on the Umatilla River in Umatilla County for a horse slaughter facility.
Duquette convened a meeting on February 10, 2012 in Pendleton at the Oregon Water Resources office in his role as president and executive director of UH to discuss a potential horse slaughter facility for the Hermiston area. There is a lengthy summary of this meeting in the Umatilla Confederated Journal for March, 2012. According to the article and sources present, the meeting was facilitated by Scott Fairley, Regional Solutions Team, who reports to Greg Wolf, Director of Oregon Regional Solutions and who, in turn, reports directly to Governor Kitzhaber. A number of state officials including from the Oregon Department of Water Resources (ODWR), Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) were also present. A representative from the Umatilla County Planning Department was there as well.
When Animal Law Coalition General Counsel and Equine Legal News editor Russ Mead contacted the governor's office, however, he was told "the governor's office provides information routinely to anyone who asks for information about starting a new industry and this was nothing more than that." Mead adds, "The governor's office is not taking a position on this horse slaughter plant proposal."
Duquette's Proposal 
Basically, Duquette was and is looking for investment money from Northwest Tribes, representatives of which were present, including the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Yakima Nation, Warm Springs Tribes, and Northwest Tribal Horse Coalition.  Under Duquette's proposal, the tribes would develop a cooperative and own 51% of the operation. The other 49% would be owned by private investors that "Duquette says he has lined up".   The UE would manage the operations.  At this point the land under consideration is not on a reservation but one of two properties near Hermiston.
Duquette has said the operation would occupy 20,000 square feet and slaughter 25,000 horses each year. One local newspaper indicated it would be a $3 million investment. He has made various promises as to jobs, anywhere from 80-130, which is remarkable as the 3 horse slaughter houses operating in the U.S. at the time they were closed in 2007 never created more than about 178 jobs altogether.
Duquette did acknowledge during the meeting that no new money has been allocated for USDA inspections and money would have to come from the existing budget that is likely to be reduced further this year. Dr. Elizabeth Hagen, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, has said that the USDA does not expect horses slaughter to resume in the "near term". As of the date she made her remarks, December 13, 2011, no applications had been submitted to USDA to operate a horse slaughter facility.
According to the UCJ article and sources present at the February 12 meeting, other than CTUIR, the tribes were supportive. The position of the Intertribal Agriculture Council is not clear, however. CTUIR is concerned about what they say are "feral" horses overrunning and causing damage to land; they plan to round up 350 horses on the north and south sides of the Umatilla River on the reservation. CTUIR does not allow slaughter on the reservation.
The Yakima Nation representative, Jim Stephenson, said 12,000-15,000 horses are "tearing up the ecosystem" though that seems unlikely.
Jerry Gardner from ODA is reported to have said he "liked the idea of such a facility". He believes a horse slaughter facility will help reduce numbers of abandoned horses in Willamette Valley in particular.
Duquette himself unwittingly agreed that a slaughter house will not address any issue of so-called unwanted horses. He told Oregon Public Radio listeners during a March 22, 2012 interview that you can hear on youtube below, that "[kill] buyers for Canada won't even take those horses".  If kill buyers won't take the so-called unwanted horses, then that means there is no market for their meat. Duquette stumbled onto the fact that slaughter is not a "service" for surplus horses or horses in need. It is not like the local pound for dogs and cats. If it were, then there would not be surplus horses or horses in need. Instead, slaughter is a for profit business driven by a demand for horsemeat in some foreign countries. There is a demand for only so many horses for slaughter. Slaughter actually creates a salvage market that encourages overbreeding. Overbreeding and a poor economy, the worst on record since the Great Depression have contributed to numbers of surplus horses or horses in need. Stopping slaughter would actually reduce the numbers of surplus horses or horses in need.
Duquette told attendees of the February 12 meeting that if the "tribes here don't go, we'll work hard with the Warm Springs to help them get one up and going". There was apparently a feasibility study done last year at Warm Springs, though, that "did not pencil out".
Duquette appears to require tribal investment, without which he cannot build a horse slaughter facility in the Hermiston area.
Duquette told attendees there is a growing market for horsemeat in the U.S. though the only example he gave was that Harvard University's Faculty Club had horsemeat on the menu before 1985.
Duquette also discussed that there would be a "rescue and rejuvenation" program operated by UH for some horses before they are sent to slaughter. Duquette has been quoted elsewhere as saying some horses would be adopted to new homes.
At the 2/12 meeting, he is reported to have said, "If a horse can't be rejuvenated, they cannot stand around and cost money. They'd go to the processing plant."  It's not clear what this program means particularly as according to the USDA, more than 92% of horses that end up at slaughter are healthy and could easily have been purchased for some purpose by someone other than a kill buyer. This may be part of UE and UH's "marketing" of this venture as an effort to stop the suffering of horses.  It may be some way to fundraise for their non-profit.
There is one report that Duquette is trying to get the land and maybe the building and equipment donated, presumably to UH on the theory the sellers/donors would receive a tax deduction and then the non-profit would arguably lease to the for-profit owner which would be the group of investors, however organized. Or he might consider the entire operation a non-profit venture with people bringing horses for "rescue and rejuvenation" though they then would be beaten into kill chutes and slaughtered for meat served as a delicacy largely in fine European and Asian restaurants.  By "donate", he may mean that the seller/donor will receive in return an ownership interest. It's hard to know what Wallis and Duquette will think they can do here.
It is unlikely the IRS would allow a 501c3 charity which UH purports to be, to operate as a front, a "rescue", for a horse slaughter facility.  Scott Beckstead, Oregon State Director for the Humane Society of the U.S., told Oregon Public Radio listeners in the same March 22, 2012 interview that it was a "scam" and warned investors of possible illegality. This would not be Wallis and Duquette's first or even second scam using so-called charities to fund horse slaughter activities.
The Land and the Umatilla River
Umatilla River from Whitman Enterprises propertyThe land that Duquette has reportedly entered into an agreement to purchase is not on a reservation but is one of two properties that are divided by a 14 acre parcel of land. They are both located near the intersections of I-84 and I-82. The Umatilla River flows through one part of one of the properties. Duquette announced on March 22, 2012 on Oregon Public Radio that "we have property bought" for the horse slaughter facility. But there is no proof Duquettte or anyone or any entity has entered into any kind of agreement for the purchase of either of these properties, but in addition to holding the meeting on February 12, it is clear that he has also approached various state and local officials about building a horse slaughter facility on one or the other.
At present, the Northwestern Livestock Commission Company, the local auction site, owns and is located on one of the proposed sites.  The property consists of 32.93 acres. This seems unlikely as this is a thriving business.  It is appraised at $894,740.
The second site is owned by Whitman Enterprises, Inc. and is 236.56 acres.  It is raw land.  The county appraises it at $86,350. (See deed and assessor's report.)  It is this property through which the Umatilla River flows.
It was in this area of the Umatilla that there was a major but successful salmon recovery effort a few years ago. The corner of the Whitman property is a flood plain, flood way zone AE. There is a high bank along the river, though, and it appears only the river itself is actually in the plain.
The Umatilla flows into the Columbia River about 10 miles north of this area.
Mead who visited the area last week with Scott Beckstead indicated the land may be in a wetlands. They are checking with the state officials to determine if any of the land is part of a protected wetlands. 
This is a very industrial area with a co-generation power plant within sight.
State and local requirements
To obtain approval for a horse slaughter facility in Umatilla County, Duquette must apply for an overlay that requires approval of the zoning board following a hearing. It may also require approval of the county council, depending on what is involved.
The zoning designation for these properties is Exclusive Farm Use and there is no specific permitted or conditional use allowed for a slaughter house. The way the county handles applications to operate these businesses for which the land is not specifically designated is to take an application for an overlay for a specific use.  The application must include a business plan, soils studies, a survey, a fairly complete set of plans for buildings and the operations to take place, and provisions for water and disposal of waste and wastewater. The cost can range from $20,000-$100,000.
It is not known if the land would come with water rights. County officials indicate he could buy water rights from another property. Apparently wastewater from the co-generation power plant is used to irrigate crops. Duquette believes that would be a suitable water source for "wash[ing] down carcasses".  OWRD Director Mike Ladd who was at the February 12, 2012 meeting, has said water could be purchased from the Port of Umatilla's direct line to the Columbia River. The representative at the meeting from the ODEQ, Cheryl Hutchens-Woods, said ground water aquifers in the area are generally protected; she said they are almost dry. It seems unlikely Duquette could use surface or groundwater. Regardless, Duquette would be required to submit an application to OWRD for any use, storage, diversion or pumping of surface or groundwater. The application process involves studies, review and public comment.
lagoonThere is then the issue of wastewater disposal which the county says can be disposed of by lagoon with a no discharge permit, or by discharge onto the ground which requires a discharge permit.  Duquette said he may use a lagoon system and also create an algae farm fed by the lagoon; he would then sell the algae as fuel.  This is not unheard of, but seems unlikely for Duquette to accomplish.  Scott Beckstead told OPR listeners on March 22, "Imagine driving past open algae ponds in the summer ... full of horse blood, horse waste and pond scum".
As mentioned, Duquette also seemed to think that the water could simply be disposed of by dumping it onto the ground. He said it's no different than irrigating potatoes.  County officials Mead spoke with, however, said it was unlikely he would be allowed to dispose of wastewater by dumping it on the ground. ODEQ also said the facility must comply with state wastewater rules.
Hermiston is actually growing even compared to Pendleton. It is not clear why any community in Umatilla County would want a horse slaughter plant given the threat to the river, the salmon, and the economy. For more on what Umatilla residents could expect.... During the radio interview Beckstead described that horse slaughterhouses have been "absolutely devastating" to communities where they operated in the past. He said it wasa "vicious lie" for anyone to call slaughter humane euthanasia. Beckstead pointed out for about $255 a veterinarian would humanely euthanize a horse, and most landfills in Oregon accept horse carcasses, if not for free, then for a nominal charge of no more than $25.
Beckstead also questioned how Duquette could solicit investors for an enterprise that will be illegal. Beckstead said it is not a question of if but when it will be illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption. He said, "Americans don't eat dogs. They don't eat cats. And they don't eat horses." He also promised a horse slaughter facility would be met with every  conceivable legal action and protest. The HSUS has already told the USDA that it will bring legal action if the agency fails to obtain environmental assessments and take other appropriate action under the National Environmental Policy Act before authorizing inspections at a horse slaughter facility.
It does not appear Duquette has nearly enough funding for this project.  Some of his positive talk in the media was likely arranged to encourage tribal investment that he seems to depend on for this project to go forward. That could change quickly, though, and it would probably not take much for Duquette and the investors to submit the requisite applications once they are organized and have funds. It will be important for the citizens who care about horses and the environment and their way of life in Oregon to be ready with the fierce opposition that Beckstead promised.        

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