Hilmar dairy gets to expand

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comNovember 29, 2013 

The Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously denied an appeal by an environmental group that objected to the expansion of a Hilmar farm during a board meeting this week.

The vote during Tuesday’s meeting cleared the way for the dairy to expand and upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of the conditional use permit.

The Davis-based California Clean Energy Committee challenged the county planning commissioners’ approval of a conditional use permit by Bobby Borba to expand his 1,250-cow dairy to a range of 4,265-4,590 cows.

The expansion would be confined to 29 acres of dairy facilities, located on six parcels totaling 462 acres, according to county documents.

On Sept. 11, planning commissioners unanimously approved Borba’s permit request. The environmental group filed an appeal on Sept. 13 saying the project’s environmental impact report and its findings did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Eugene Wilson, who signed the appeal on behalf of the California Clean Energy Committee, did not return calls and email seeking comment.

The California Clean Energy Committee is a nonprofit group advocating for energy efficiency and renewable energy, reduction of greenhouse gases and the development of clean energy resources in California, according to its website.

According to the appeal, the environmental report didn’t mitigate climate impacts of the project or the use of renewable energy resources.

Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development, said the county addressed those concerns in its final environmental review. Still, the California Clean Energy Committee submitted a 1,100-page letter to the county on Nov. 5, the day the item was scheduled for a vote.

“That prompted the board to continue the item to give staff time to review the documents,” Hendrickson said Wednesday, adding that the letter didn’t highlight new concerns with the expansion. “There were no new issues raised beyond what was already responded to.”

Owner Borba said he bought the farm in 2007 and invested nearly $4million to upgrade the dairy to meet state regulations. Borba said he spent roughly $130,000 on environmental reports for the expansion.

“I have put all that money out there and I have to recoup it,” Borba said Wednesday. “One of the main reasons I needed to expand was the bank forced me to either grow or turn around and sell it. We just all need to make a living and I was trying to make things better for the facility and my animals.”

District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo, who has operated a dairy, said Wednesday the dairy industry is already highly regulated and that dairymen are abiding by the rules.

“I don’t know how much more we can put on these dairies,” Pedrozo said. “The only way dairymen are going to make money is to expand their herd. They are state-of-the-art facilities that are meeting all the state codes.”

Borba’s dairy has nine workers and would add nine more during the expansion. County planners said Borba’s plans are consistent with the general plan.

The dairy is on Central Avenue, south of Williams Avenue, in the Hilmar area.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209)385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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