African-American Historic Site Threatened by Gigantic Industrial-Scale Dairies

LOS ANGELES (December 19, 2006) -- California State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, civil rights leader Connie Rice, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) yesterday joined government agencies, civil rights organizations and other groups to oppose construction of two industrial-scale dairies adjacent to the renowned Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, in California's Central Valley, because of concern about waste and odors from the gigantic facilities.

Founded in 1970, the park is a 1,000-acre re-creation of the homes, shops, school and church where as many as 300 families once lived in the only California town founded (in 1908), populated, financed and governed by African-Americans. Since 2000 alone, California State Parks has invested more than $13 million restoring and preserving the Valley's original African-American settlement. Unique in the state park system, it has become an obligatory stop for families and scholars interested in African-American history, welcoming several thousands of visitors annually.

The proposal to add two new dairies across from the state park will introduce a massive operation involving 12,000 cows, that would generate "annually close to 8,000 tons of manure and more than 10,659 gallons of manure water a day into the retention ponds," according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which owns and operates the park.

"Approval of these two mega-dairies poses a threat to a landmark in California and African-American history," says State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles). "My colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus and I believe the state must protect the investment California has made in Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park and its status as a cultural and historic landmark."

NRDC and civil rights leaders yesterday presented joint comments in anticipation of today's public hearing by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, when the Board will vote on whether to approve the necessary dairy permits. The comments challenge the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the dairies. The EIR "improperly characterizes the environmental setting, fails to analyze significant environmental effects, dismisses impacts upon Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park and fails to require feasible mitigation measures or consider a reasonable range of alternatives," according to NRDC and the civil rights leaders.

"It is hard to imagine a bigger threat to the use and enjoyment of a unique state park," said NRDC Environment Justice attorney Tim Grabiel. "Just think what this means in terms of odor, flies, dust and general discomfort to park visitors. Not to mention the threat of groundwater contamination in an area where water is scarce. The construction of these giant facilities would undermine years of revitalization and preservation efforts, and spoil the park and visitor experience of this unique cultural resource."

As an example of the EIR shortcomings, NRDC points out that the Tulare Planning Commission failed to even identify the state park as a local cultural resource as well as analyze the effects the dairies would have on the park.

Other comments and objections have been filed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Department of Fish and Game, the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE), and the Humane Society of the United States.