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Board gives early OK for dairy near park honoring black town

December 20, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Tulare County supervisors tentatively approved controversial plans Tuesday for a 12,000-cow dairy operation near a state historic park that commemorates Allensworth, an African American community that thrived in the early decades of the 20th century.

The action will not be finalized until March, however, allowing time for state parks officials to negotiate with the property owner for his development rights.

The proposal has angered black families and church groups throughout the state.

They contend that a large dairy would envelop the isolated park in foul odors and clouds of flies, dishonoring the experiment in self-determination that Col. Allen Allensworth, a charismatic black military retiree, started in 1908.

The dairy plan also has been opposed by residents of Allensworth, a struggling small town nearby.

But the Tulare County supervisors were unanimous in approving the 2,000-acre operation, which would bring as many as 60 jobs to the rural area in the San Joaquin Valley. They were skeptical about adverse effects from an operation that would border the park but be centered about a mile away.

"I'm saddened by the fact that somehow the perception is there that agriculture and dairying are disrespectful of people's culture and heritage," Supervisor Connie Conway said at a hearing in Visalia. "I'm saddened that a land-use decision has been confiscated by a group of environmental lawyers from the Bay Area whose only mission is to stop dairy production in this county."

Tulare produces more milk than any other county in the United States. Environmental groups have blamed the county's more than 300 dairies for fouling the air and polluting waterways.

State parks officials have argued that the environmental review of the dairy approved Tuesday was shoddy, but the county disagreed. To stop the plan, parks officials have suggested that the state purchase development rights from the landowner, Sam Etchegaray, a Basque farmer who emigrated from France in 1963.

David Albers, Etchegaray's attorney, told supervisors Tuesday that his client "is very open to that concept and will negotiate in good faith."

No price has been publicly discussed. However, approval of the dairy will almost certainly increase the land's value, making a sale more lucrative for Etchegaray, state officials have said.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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