Merced County sued over Hilmar dairy expansion

A Davis-based environmental group has filed a lawsuit against Merced County for approving the expansion plans of a Hilmar dairy farm.

It isn’t the first time the county has sparred with the California Clean Energy Committee, a nonprofit organization that advocates for energy conservation and the development of clean energy.

The nonprofit filed an appeal last year challenging 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 to 4,590 cows.

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 Board of Supervisors unanimously denied the group’s appeal in November, clearing the way for the dairy to expand and upholding the Planning Commission’s approval of the conditional use permit.

Calls made to Eugene Wilson, the attorney representing the California Clean Energy Committee, were not returned Friday.

In the lawsuit, the group claims the county violated guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to disclose or analyze the project’s significant environmental impacts. According to court documents, the project’s environmental impact report did not identify cost-effective, renewable energy resources.

The nonprofit claims it pointed out ways to reduce energy costs using energy-efficient equipment and natural gas fueled trucks, but the county “refused to take responsibility” and delegated the choice of which technologies to use to the farmer.

The group said 30 individuals from the Turlock and Hilmar areas support its quest to stop the expansion because they would be “adversely impacted” by the project.

Roger Matzkind, Merced County’s chief civil litigator, said the environmental group wanted the county to consider changing the operation entirely to make it more organic.

“They’re saying the environmental impact report should have considered doing farming as if it was an organic farm instead of traditional farming,” Matzkind said. “We’re saying it doesn’t require such an evaluation.”

Matzkind said further evaluation would cost Borba more money. In an interview with the Sun-Star in November, Borba said he had spent roughly $130,000 on environmental reports for the expansion.

“The main concept is they’re saying we’re required to do additional evaluation of things we believe we did,” Matzkind added. “We believe we have met all the requirements.”

Borba told the Sun-Star he wanted to expand his farm to improve animal comfort and to fill the growing demand placed on dairy farmers. Borba’s dairy is on Central Avenue, south of Williams Avenue, in the Hilmar area.

Matzkind said a settlement meeting is scheduled for Thursday to bring both sides together to discuss the case. If an agreement is not reached at the meeting, a hearing will be scheduled in the next few months.