In what has now become a year-and-a-half long fight between ranchers and homeowners in Carson Valley, an appeal will be heard in late August for a proposed slaughterhouse in Centerville, a ranching community south of Gardnerville, which had been unanimously denied by Douglas County Commissioners in Nov. 2019.
The line was drawn in the sand between ranchers, who were in favor of a harvesting and processing plant for their livestock, and homeowners, who were worried about their housing prices being affected by a new facility.
Karin Sinclair and Mike Holcomb of the newly created Carson Valley Meats have been struggling to win approval for their proposed slaughterhouse and meat processing facility ever since, and the appeal next month will be the final decision on their endeavor.
The proposed site for the processing facility is the old Storke Dairy in Centerville, which used to house 250 cows and operated for over 50 years at the corner of Centerville Ln. and Highway 88. The old dairy, which spans nearly 60 acres and is zoned for agricultural and meat processing use, has been used as little more than storage since it shut down nearly two decades ago. Pastures that used to contain dairy cows now house two lone horses, who are probably happy for the space.
If Sinclair and Holcomb win their appeal, the facility, which will use approximately 2 acres of the 59.6 acre site, will be a state of the art, USDA-certified meat processing facility, breathing new life into the old building.
“The goal is to bring back a lot of the history of the dairy,” said Sinclair. “We’re trying to get it back to being a working ranch. We’ve been working on the barn, refurbishing some of the old equipment. The history of the dairy is very important to us.”
“It shut down as a working dairy around 15-20 years ago,” said Holcomb. “It was the last diary in the Gardnerville area that was still up and running. It’s got a lot of history, and they actually used to process animals here.”
This is not the first time there has been a slaughterhouse and meat processing facility in the valley. In fact, up until 1997, Carson Valley Meat Co. had been in constant operation since the early 1900s until it was sold, and the historic building the town grew up around was demolished in 2001 to make way for houses.
In a parallel to the current fight between ranchers and the county, the land around Carson Valley Meat Co. was rezoned from agricultural to residential, and soon after the Chichester Estates subdivision was built on the surrounding property.
Then Carson Valley Meat Co. owner Bill Mendes, who had bought the company from Fred Dangberg in 1965 and kept it going until 2001, told the Record Courier in a Dec. 19, 2001 article he knew as soon as the land was rezoned that it wouldn’t be long until the new residents would complain and get his facility shut down.
After the loss of Carson Valley Meat Company, ranchers then had to take their cattle and livestock to Fallon or out of state to be processed, which was a significant cost increase due to transportation.
Now, history is repeating itself yet again. Both ranchers, homeowners and county commissioners agree ranchers deserve to have a processing facility nearby. However, no one wants it in their own backyard.
The old Storke Dairy in Centerville was purchased for the slaughterhouse, and Sinclair has been waiting for the appeal process to move forward with her plans since last fall.
Sinclair currently runs a ranch in New Castle, Calif. where she raises cattle, pigs, horses, sheep, and goats, and they sell their products at farmer’s markets.
Sinclair decided on Carson Valley after finding it difficult to open a facility in California. Sinclair’s business partner, Holcomb, has lived in the Carson Valley area for 11 years working in the meat processing industry. He suggested trying for a facility in Nevada instead.
“We thought it would be easier to do in Nevada, and this place sparked my interest,” said Sinclair. “I looked into it and it all seemed to be falling into place.”
Once they decided on Carson Valley, they began working with local engineering company R.O. Anderson Inc. to see if the idea was feasible. After months of planning, studying city ordinances, speaking with builders, and deciding on various infrastructure, they took the plans to the ranchers.
“The ranchers were gung-ho, they were all on board because it would be great to have something close by, and then we had people crawling out of the woodwork thinking we were going to do all these things that we weren’t going to do, and it all went sideways,” said Sinclair.
Some of the complaints Sinclair received, which Sinclair stated were unfounded, included a suggestion that the facility would be processing hundreds of heads of cattle every day, “polluting the flood plain with rivers of blood or forcing resident’s children to stare into the eyes of cows right as they were slaughtered in the yard on their way to school in the morning.”
However, said Sinclair, county ordinances state that processing can only be done one day of the week, and the animals must be inspected by USDA agents prior to processing to make sure they are healthy. The slaughter itself would be done indoors, before the meat was processed and hung in a walk-in refrigeration unit at the end of the facility.
“We could only process 60 large animals total per week,” said Holcomb. “Owners would come and drop them off. We’d put them in their pens and water them, and 24 hours later they’d be harvested after the USDA inspection and approval.”
Livestock would be in the pens for 24 hours prior to processing, but besides that, Sinclair said, no one would see any part of the process.
“It’s going to be indoors, it’s going to be discreet,” said Sinclair. “We both handle animals on a daily basis, and we have respect for our neighbors. Everybody around here is a rancher and those are the people we are trying to appeal to. I thought it was going pretty good until we had a hearing.”
At the first hearing, which was held in front of the Douglas County Planning Commission last September, residents from both sides of the issue came to speak their piece. Some residents were worried about a smell and property values, while others pointed out that there hadn’t been a smell with the previous Carson Valley Meat Co. and property values had been the same when the dairy was operational.
During the second meeting in front of the Douglas County Commissioners, several hundred people offered written public comment ahead of time or spoke at the meeting, both for and against the proposal.
Keith Ruben from R.O. Anderson Engineering Inc. pointed out that there are only ten or fewer residences within the quarter mile radius of the dairy, whereas the Carson Valley Meat Co. in 1994 had 230 structures within the same amount of space.
Holcomb also spoke at the meeting and described his history in the meat processing industry, in which he’s been involved in since 1989. One of the companies he worked for for many years was Wolf Pack Meats at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he processed beef, lambs, hogs, goats and bison.
“I had an impeccable record with USDA [while working at Wolf pack Meats],” said Holcomb. “We never got shut down for inhumane handling of animals. We also had an impeccable record with animal welfare, which is a third-party audit company that will come through. I take real pride in what I do. I respect what I’m doing. I have respect for the animals, the customers and the public. During my time at Wolfpack Meats I never once had an issue with rotting meat, blood, smell, odors, rodents, or flies. Any one of these or all of these are issues that USDA can close you down until you get those addressed.”
The only processing business in the State of the Nevada that offers harvesting, processing and curing under one roof is Wolf Pack Meats, said Holcomb. While there are some businesses in Fallon and Reno that offer either harvesting or processing, no others offer USDA meat curing.
“That’s why this makes this such a key thing for this area, it’s a one-stop shop,” said Holcomb.
At this time, ranchers in the Carson Valley area, and even beyond, simply don’t have enough resources for harvesting and processing their livestock. While there are facilities in Reno and Fallon, and even over the hill into the Marysville, Yuba City area, all are generally booked out at least a year, according to Sinclair.
“Right now it’s a fiasco,” said Sinclair. “We’re getting calls from people from all over the area saying ‘help me.’ For instance right now, a lot of kids aren’t able to take their animals to the fairs, so if you buy them to help support the kids, where are you going to get it processed? There’s a lot of backlog.”
Sue Kennedy is one such rancher, who is in favor of bringing Sinclair’s slaughterhouse to the valley.
“I am a fourth-generation Nevada cattle rancher and my family has been ranching in Nevada since before the Civil War,” said Kennedy. “I am here because what these folks are trying to do is desperately needed by people like me. I run 40 mother cows, I finish 15 steers a year. I bring my animal to Wolf Pack Meats for slaughter and it is a year ahead of time before you can get in there. I tried in September to get my appointment for 2020 in October; I still don’t have an appointment. I can’t earn money if I can’t get my animals slaughtered. It is critically important if you want to maintain these beautiful green fields and viewscapes that you allow people like me to be able to do business. Without a place like this we simply cannot.”
Right now, said Sinclair, a lot of the ranchers in the area only have cow-calf operations because of the lack of processing ability, but with the addition of a facility such as Carson Valley Meats, they could raise those calves to the harvesting period.
“I haven’t found a single rancher yet who doesn’t support it,” said Holcomb. “A lot of other people, they support it, but just not in their backyard. But the county code says we can have this here, and that we can process 60 animals a week with the A-19 zoning.”
In order for the slaughterhouse to be approved, it will need a Special Use Permit in order to process the animals on site, which County Commissioners struck down.
Matt McKinney is a manager for Bently Ranch and Bently Ranch Meats in Gardnerville, which is one of two local butcher shops in the valley that processes meat under USDA and County Codes. McKinney is in favor of the slaughterhouse.
“This is food. This is wholesome, healthfully, locally raised food,” said McKinney at the county commission meeting. “I drove around the site in the area about a 5 mile radius this morning, roughly counted 500 four-legged animals; horses, cows, dogs, probably another thousand that I couldn’t see. They’re already in the area.”
The biggest concern people have, said Holcomb, is that a flood may come and “rivers of blood” would wash through the valley, which according to Holcomb, couldn’t happen with the proposed facility’s design.
“We’re going to have a water filtration pond, and I think a lot of people are worried that there’s gonna literally be blood running into this pond, and it’s just not,” said Holcomb. “What blood there is will be caught and put into a storage tank that a company will come and pump out.”
Additionally, said Holcomb, there’s no difference between what they’re proposing and the majority of Centerville residents who have above-ground septic systems.
“We’re doing everything by the book,” said Sinclair. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do from the get go, we’re following all of the guidelines and rules, and we’re just trying to make it work for everybody.”
The Carson Valley was built on ranching, and yet as more and more facilities shut down, and new ones are barred, there is a fear that the history of the area will soon be lost.
“I think in this valley, there’s a lot of the ranchers that work their tails off to make this valley what it is and there’s people who want to move here to enjoy what they see, but then they also want to change things,” said Sinclair. “This ranching valley enticed me to come here because it’s a ranching community. But for people to come from outside the ranching industry and want to change things for a reason they don’t understand, I have a hard time with it.”
Douglas County over the past few decades has seen a large influx of new residents. Those who have lived in the valley found themselves suddenly unable to afford it anymore, and were pushed out. During the county commission elections of 2018, candidate Wes Rice, a retired police officer and long-time Round Hill resident, spoke on the issue.
“The people coming here to retire from California had their house that they bought for $115,000 now selling for $1 million plus, are coming here to buy up all the nice houses,” he said. “They’re jacking up the price for the rest of the county. The people who work here can no longer afford to live here.”
If the ranchers continue to be pushed out, said Sinclair, the valley will cease to be the charming place that convinced people to move there in the first place.
“I can almost guarantee the valley will cease to exist without the ranchers,” said Sinclair. “It’s the waterways, it’s the green fields. The ranchers are out irrigating the fields with flood gates to get the grass green, which is making hay, which is a huge part of the valley, too. Without the ranchers you’re not going to have those green fields, the smell of hay in the air; you’re not going to have what makes this valley special. The ranchers are a big part of this valley and right now there’s a lot of people who want to push them out.”
While the appeal was set to be reviewed on Tues., July 28, the judge told Sinclair they would need more time to review, and the appeal is now set for Aug. 28.
Kelsey Penrose is a native Nevadan journalist covering everything from hostage crises to dog parades in the Northern Nevadan region. Support her work in the Ally.