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Dairy near state historic site OKd

Despite the Tulare County board's vote, talks continue over preventing development next to a former all-black community.

March 21, 2007|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Tulare County supervisors gave final approval Tuesday to plans for a controversial dairy operation adjacent to Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, the site of a historic all-black community founded 99 years ago.

However, the approval came amid signs of progress in a possible deal between the property's owner and critics of his plan for the site about 150 miles north of Los Angeles.

The dairy is opposed by the state as well as African American community groups, who contend that flies and drifting odors from 12,000 cows would deter visitors to Allensworth and dishonor a cherished piece of California's black heritage.

Despite Tuesday's decision, negotiations for the property are continuing.

An attorney for farmer Sam Etchegaray, the land's owner, said his client has granted an option to the Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based conservation group, to purchase either the entire 2,000 acres or the property's development rights.

"His goal isn't that he has to have dairies on this particular property," attorney David Albers said. "He's sensitive to the park."

Tuesday's approval will be crucial in an accurate appraisal of the land, Albers said. When it's completed -- possibly in June -- it will be up to the state to fund a purchase.

However, Brad Torgan, an attorney for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, warned the supervisors that their action Tuesday could trigger lawsuits that have been threatened by environmental groups. Such suits could devalue the land and make a deal less likely, he said.

The dairy's critics contend it will violate restrictions on air and water pollution.

The state historic park commemorates the town founded by Col. Allen Allensworth, a charismatic black military retiree. Established with the support of Booker T. Washington, Allensworth's community drew about 300 families but faded away, partly for lack of water, after a couple of decades.

As at previous hearings, dozens of people protesting the plan converged on the supervisors' meeting in Visalia from Los Angeles and the Bay Area. The board also heard objections from residents of the current Allensworth, a struggling farm town near the park.

But supervisors agreed with an industry representative who said that modern dairy techniques would minimize odor and pollution problems. Four supervisors approved the proposal, while one abstained.

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