By Richard Cockle, The Oregonian
Horse Eating Dave Duquette not Popular in Own Hometown
A water tank greets visitors on Highway 395 into Hermiston. ~ Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian
HERMISTON — Once wide open to virtually any industry that promised payrolls and jobs, the eastern Oregon town of Hermiston is taking a stand against the latest business poised to land on its doorstep.
“I don’t think the first thing you want to see when you get off the freeway is a horse slaughter plant,” said Mayor Robert E. Severson.
That’s a dramatic reversal for a town whose tallest building is the 73-foot Pioneer Hi-Bred International seed cleaning elevator and where the Army’s Umatilla Chemical Depot stockpiled rockets, bombs and land mines armed with nerve gas and mustard agents outside the city limits until this past spring.
But livability is an issue for Hermiston‘s 16,745 residents, and a slaughter plant might discourage other enterprises from coming here, Severson said.
“We are the fastest-growing community in eastern Oregon,” he said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Thank God that you took a stand against the horse slaughter plant.’”
Dave Duquette, a Hermiston horse trainer who is organizing the slaughter effort, said the City Council is missing a bet on a proposal that would employ 100 workers, slaughter up to 25,000 horses a year and inject $35 million into the local economy.
He hopes to have the 20,000-square-foot plant in place by late 2013. Investors have bought 252 acres near the junction of Interstate 84/Interstate 82 for the operation, he said.
He also plans a nonprofit horse rehabilitation center managed by the 22,000-member United Horsemen’s Association in conjunction with the plant. It would rescue, train and find homes for horses salvaged from the slaughter stream, he said.
“We are going to try to reproduce this facility in several places in the United States,” said Duquette, who believes the rescue center could be “a role model for the nation.” Horses for slaughter would include old, lame and problem domestic horses as well as unwanted wild horses from herds roaming Indian reservations.
But the mayor and Hermiston City Council have refused to talk to him about the project, he said.
The site is outside Hermiston’s city limits and beyond its urban growth boundaries in an exclusive farm use zone. Richard Jennings, senior planner for Umatilla County in Pendleton, said the county planning commission will decide whether a slaughter plant can be built there.
Severson said the City Council directed Hermiston City Manager Ed Brookshier to oppose the proposal when it comes before the commission.
The nation’s last three horse slaughter plants in Texas and Illinois closed five years ago, ending the annual killing and processing of roughly 100,000 of the nation’s 9.2 million horses. President Barack Obama signed the federal agricultural appropriations bill last spring, lifting a congressional ban on domestic horse meat inspections, in effect allowing slaughter to resume.
Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state representative, cattle rancher and slaughter advocate, said four equine slaughter/processing facilities will open in Missouri, Iowa and New Mexico within two months. All are former beef or bison plants retrofitted for horses, she said.
Industry representatives blame the shutdown of domestic slaughter for triggering steep declines in horse values, causing widespread horse abandonment and overwhelming rescue operations.
Meanwhile, a related population explosion among wild herds on reservations is damaging roots, berries and other traditional Native American foods, tribal members say.
Duquette met with representatives of 11 tribes, some from as far as the Dakotas, last month in Pendleton, to discuss the slaughter issue. He expects tribes to underwrite 51 to 65 percent of the Hermiston plant, he said.
Scott Beckstead, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, applauded the Hermiston City Council for opposing slaughter and took issue with the concept of killing domestic horses for overseas consumption.
“We do not raise our horses to be food; we raise them to be companions,” he said. “This town does not want to be known as the place in Oregon where horses are killed and butchered.”
One of the national Humane Society‘s legislative priorities is passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, to prohibit the resumption of domestic horse slaughter and end the export of unwanted horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.
“The answer lies with the industry,” Beckstead said. “They need to adopt policies that promote responsible breeding.”
The Hermiston City Council’s opposition to a slaughter plant doesn’t come “from the standpoint of animal rights,” said Mark Morgan, assistant Hermiston city manager. “It’s more the economic impacts and quality of life impacts.”
Eastern Oregon has plenty of wide open spaces where such a plant could be built, he said. “They just don’t want it that close to Hermiston.”
– Richard Cockle
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