'Farmers in the Dell': Succulent solution will involve pig roast

County, neighbors push suburban farm to lose the pigs

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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The farm is just fine in suburban Hazel Dell, but probably not the smelly pigs. One succulent-smelling solution should waft across the neighborhood today, as "Farmer in the Dell" Gerry LaDuke holds a pig roast.

LaDuke's small farm on Northeast Hazel Dell Avenue has been the subject of a big — but reasonable — outpouring of complaints since the matter hit The Columbian's front page about a month ago, according to the Clark County official who's handling the matter.

"I have heard from quite a few neighbors," Clark County policy analyst Axel Swanson said. "Many of the neighbors are very open-minded and say they like animals. They don't have any problem with the birds, the alpaca, the goats. It's just the pigs."

That's pretty much what neighbors on Northeast 112th Circle told The Columbian.

"You don't want to have anyone come over."

"You can't eat, you can't barbecue outside."

"It's become excessive."

"It's the smell. I have candles going in my house all the time because of the smell."

A few added that crowing roosters aren't appreciated at the crack of dawn, and that the rabbits and chickens do get out and roam the area -- but their beef is largely about pork.

While piggy perfume that drifts across suburban streets may seem unacceptable at first whiff, Swanson — who visited the site this month with other county officials — pointed out that the county's urban livestock code protects animals and farming in every zone. So there's no obvious red line that Gerry and Nancy LaDuke crossed when they expanded their farming operation of the last few years, adding pigs to their smaller and less fragrant livestock. Swanson said he is moving "slowly and cautiously" to address the situation.

There are two issues to address, he said. One is an adjacent parcel of county land that the LaDukes are using to run their animals — with verbal county permission but without a formal lease. They are seeking that lease, Swanson said, but another potential user of the land is making noise too: Evergreen Habitat for Humanity has shown interest in buying the land since 2011, he said, and that prospect appears to be growing more serious.

"I think they are probably going to pursue that property in the near future," he said. "So potentially there may be a need for the county to take that land back, and Mr. LaDuke is aware of that."

Even if the Habitat matter never materializes, the county seems poised to discourage the pig population at the LaDuke farm. At a county commissioners' workshop in early September, Swanson said the lease sought by the LaDukes could be used as "leverage" to get rid of the pigs.

The other issue is the sheer number of neighborhood complaints the county has now received.

"Once we have so many confirmed complaints, we work with mediation services. That's what the code refers us to," Swanson said. He said he aims to set up mediation meetings between neighbors and the LaDukes in the near future. He wants a farming expert on hand for these sessions, he said -- like someone from the Washington State University Clark County Extension. "The WSU Extension has real experience and knowledge of the best practices for farms," he said. "They can provide pointers about what you can do and what you shouldn't do."

"I think the conversation is probably going to end up with the pig situation and, is that a large enough lot for pigs," Swanson said. "The bottom line is the livestock code is protective of the right to farm, but neighbors have steps to relief when it becomes a problem."

"There's no mediation with stink," County Commissioner Tom Mielke quipped during that early September workshop.

Roast results

Therefore, LaDuke plans a roast. He'll roast either one or two pigs, depending on how many people attend. The rest of the pigs — at one time there were 13 of them — also will probably have to go before long, LaDuke added.

Contacted Thursday by telephone, a clearly demoralized LaDuke wasn't happy with his neighbors — and he especially wasn't happy with complainant Mark Bippes, his immediate neighbor to the north, whom he said has threatened a $300,000 lawsuit for defamation. That stems from some of the nasty and public back-and-forth that has characterized this situation. Bippes did not return a call to The Columbian.

Now, LaDuke said he's considering not only getting rid of all the pigs but closing down the whole farm.

"We'll decide on the rest, but right now it's not looking good," LaDuke said. "I just want these people to leave us alone."

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525 or scott.hewitt@columbian.com; facebook.com/reporterhewitt; twitter.com/col_nonprofits.