Kevin L. Hoover
Q STREET – Cypress Grove Chevre (CGC) is in escrow on 23 acres of what used to be the Gil’s Creamline Dairy on the Arcata Bottom. The world-renowned goat cheese company hopes to use the land for dairy goats, which would give it an in-house supply of milk for cheese production.
“We have a large demand and are always looking for new sources of milk,” said Bob McCall, sales manager. The company has at times been criticized for not having on-site goat milk production, and trucking in its supply.
McCall said that in the company’s early days, founder Mary Keehn kept goats to supply milk for its then-limited cheese production. When the chevremaker opened its Arcata Bottom facility, the volume of milk required could only be satisfied by tapping area goat ranches.
Now, said McCall, “we’re looking into creating some of our own again.”
Though the project has been eight years in the making, plans, McCall said, are still uncertain and tentative. He said the company preferred to complete the land acquisition and nail down other uncertainties before disclosing details.
“We do have a project that we’re formulating,” McCall said. “It isn’t finalized at all. At this point we aren’t really ready to say what it is. When we do we will be very clear and succinct.”
In recent weeks, Cypress Grove contacted a couple of property owners neighboring the Gilardoni parcel, including Foster Avenue resident Carol McFarland and St. Mary’s Church, where a gift basket of chevre was left.
McFarland said that during a visit by CGC General Manager Karen Dressler in mid-May, the project was described in vague terms as a “goat pasture” which would have little impact on adjacent neighbors. McFarland initially expressed relief that such a project might protect the land against installation of a housing subdivision.
But last weekend, having gotten wind of the nascent project, other area residents grew alarmed at the fragmentary information available. Speculation – some of it apparently unfounded – fed fears of a much more massive installation than had been suggested.
As it turns out, up to 1,400 goats would be housed at the site in a large building. The prospect of that many goats on 23 acres adjacent to residential areas raised concerns about noise, smell, traffic and property value impacts, plus questions about disposition of the effluent the animals will generate.
McCall said the figure of 1,400 goats is “roughly right, probably a little high.” He insisted that “absolutely no misleading information at all” was provided during the “chance meetings” with neighbors.
Another hot rumor was that the goats’ wastes would be liquified and sprayed onto the grounds. McCall flatly denied that. He said the goat droppings will be collected and stored for giveaway as fertilizer.
Q Street resident Karen Davidson (see letters, page 7) listed numerous concerns, and is circulating a petition demanding a public hearing on the project. She called the project a “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation” or CAFO.
McCall denied this. “That’s a term used to describe feedlots for meat animals,” he said. “It has nothing to do with what we’re doing.”
Davidson wondered how many trucks would be required to deliver feed for the goats, as 23 acres of pastureland can only support something over a hundred goats, not more than a thousand.
McCall responded that “at any goat dairy, food must be trucked in. Every goat dairy brings in grain.” Some grazing would occur on the land, augmenting the animals' diet.
Davidson wondered whether antibiotics the goats might be treated with would, along with their urine, wind up in adjacent Janes Creek, eventually polluting the Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary.
McCall said goats involved with chevre production cannot be given antibiotics, as it stifles the cultures that turn milk into cheese.
Neighbors Lee and Barbara Sobo also have a petition going. Their concerns echo Davidson’s, and they want a rigorous review of the project.
“We need an Environmental Impact Report to fully understand how this is going to impact the neighbors and the City,” Lee Sobo said.
No public hearing
Humboldt County Planner Bev Burks said that while no formal proposal has been made, from what she has heard about the project, it would be a “principally permitted” use of the agriculturally-zoned land and may not require any discretionary permits.
If that’s the case, approvals would be ministerial actions not requiring public hearings.
McCall said any project would be consistent with the land’s intended agricultural usage. “We’re very good stewards of the land here,” he said. “I think we have a good track record for the citizens and the environment.”
On Tuesday, the inevitable Facebook page was born, titled "Stop the Industrial Dairy in Arcata."
A protest was also planned for Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Cypress Grove Chevre's Q Street gate.