A milk cow pokes its head out of the door of a barn at the Moonhill Dairy in North Routt County. Moonhill farmer John Weibel is hoping to have his cheese-making facility designated as an agricultural building, rather than a commercial one, by the Routt County Regional Building Department.

John F. Russell/file

A milk cow pokes its head out of the door of a barn at the Moonhill Dairy in North Routt County. Moonhill farmer John Weibel is hoping to have his cheese-making facility designated as an agricultural building, rather than a commercial one, by the Routt County Regional Building Department.

Small dairy farmer objects to Routt County building regulations

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John F. Russell/file

Moonhill Dairy farmer John Weibel is hoping to have his cheese-making facility designated as an agricultural building, rather than a commercial one, by the Routt County Regional Building Department.

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John F. Russell/file

Ranch hand Raul Erivez brings cows (and one bull) in from a nearby pasture at the Rockin J Pastures. The cows are used to produce milk for the Moonhill Dairy, which is owned and operated by John Weibel and Lisa Sadler.

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John F. Russell/file

Lisa Sadler, co-owner of the Moonhill Dairy, milks a cow on the North Routt County ranch owned by her partner, John Weibel.

— Farmer John Weibel will get his chance Jan. 29 to make his case to the Routt County Board of Commissioners that his new cheese-making facility is an agricultural building and should not be held up to standards for commercial buildings by the Routt County Regional Building Department.

Weibel milks about a dozen Guernsey and brown Swiss dairy cows in the summer at his Moonhill Dairy on Routt County Road 52E in the lower Elk River Valley. Now, he wants to begin making modest amounts of cheese in a new shed attached to his 1930s-era barn. But Weibel is chafing at being required by the Routt County Building Department to build a firewall between his barn, where the cows are milked, and the cheese shed, where the milk would be processed.

County Commissioner Steve Ivancie said Wednesday that he and his fellow commissioners heard Weibel’s concerns Tuesday during a public comment period and directed staff to put him on their agenda. County Manager Tom Sullivan said that the time of Weibel’s Jan. 29 hearing has not been set and that he would gather information from county department leaders in advance of the formal discussion.

Weibel said Wednesday that he thinks in Routt County — where many thousands of dollars in public funds are being used to preserve the rural landscape of farms and ranches through the purchase of development rights program — government officials should do more to encourage production of agricultural products locally.

“It is my belief that the best way to keep this open space from development is through a vibrant agricultural component,” Weibel wrote in a letter he read to the commissioners.

“There isn’t any agricultural infrastructure to speak of left in the county,” Weibel said later in the week. “The biggest thing you could do is allow people to process their produce on the farm.”

Building Department official Carl Dunham said he has made concessions intended to make it easier for Weibel to comply with the portion of the International Building Code, to which the county adheres, requiring the separation of the commercial cheese processing plant from the dairy barn. Instead of requiring a masonry wall, he is willing to accept a firewall of lumber and drywall.

“We have been working very closely with Mr. Weibel’s engineer with regard to how to do a food-production facility interconnected to an agricultural building and make the details (the) least restrictive as they possibly can be,” Dunham said. “Mr. Weibel doesn’t feel he needs to do anything. We live in a community. It’s appropriate to have zoning (regulations) and building codes. It’s not a free-for-all.”

Weibel said his new cheese shed comprises about 450 square feet and has a concrete floor with a drain and stainless steel interior walls. He has a conditional-use permit from the county to make cheese at his farm but said he does not want to invest too heavily in the plant because he views it as an interim step where he will refine his cheese-making process before hopefully taking a bigger step to make cheese in a facility within Steamboat city limits. There, he hopes, visitors someday could observe the cheese-making process and purchase local cheese with the logo of his Moonhill Dairy.

Sullivan said that the county has been working with Weibel on the details of his cheese-producing plant since June 2012 and that he understands Dunham’s position.

“That’s a big concession Carl’s already made. This is a pretty reasonable, flexible accommodation,” Sullivan said. “If (Weibel) wasn’t pasteurizing the milk, it would be a different story.”

Asked about the cost of building the firewall, Weibel did not give a direct answer but said he could have satisfied Colorado Department of Health and Environment standards for food producing facilities more economically.

“I talked with the CDPHE, and they said I could process (the milk into cheese) in a trailer,” Weibel said. “If I can process it in a trailer, what does it matter if there’s a firewall in between Room A and B that has no increased risk of fire?”

Weibel said the issue of whether food-processing facilities on working farms and ranches are commercial buildings goes beyond his dairy and cheese operation. He is one of five or six local potato growers, he said, who could sell to local restaurants if they had a more efficient way to wash the spuds.

“In order to help revive a more diverse and vibrant agricultural sector in the region, I believe it would be helpful if the county would reconsider some of the rules designed elsewhere and (being) implemented in Routt County,” he wrote in his letter.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

John Weibel 1 year, 7 months ago

I object to the classification of processing agricultural products on farm as commercial as opposed to agricultural. That is the classification in most parts of the country as well as my insurer. My understanding is that any act of processing changes the classification from agricultural to commercial in the eyes of the building department and that is wrong.

In addition the about why a conforming structure and non-conforming structure needing a wall of separation has failed to have a logical explanation as to why it is needed, from the county and the International Code Council, which can not provide more than a yes or no explanation as to wether you comply with the code.

I have only read the headline to this article, which does not represent my position at all. My position is that the county should view the processing of agricultural products as agricultural in nature, not commercial. There is almost no infrastructure to handle the delivery of ag products in Routt county and an allowance for the processing of farm products on farm, while still complying with health safety codes should be allowed as an agricultural endeavor to help out small farmers, as does the state of Colorado, through the "Cottage Foods Bill".

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max huppert 1 year, 7 months ago

I think you should make Vodka with all those potatoes. Let me know if your interested.

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Kevin Nerney 1 year, 7 months ago

Max, I've always wanted to produce potato vodka, and put an Irish twist on it using the great potato famine in Ireland as a marketing tool.. However, you can make your own beer, but distilling is bootlegging and illegal..Long story short I'm interested and may have some investors,let me know maybe we can collaborate on something.

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John Fielding 1 year, 7 months ago

. There is a legitimate need for separation of the dairy from the creamy. One does not want the airborne dust coming in and of course one must keep the animals out. This can be accomplished in many ways. I recently designed a micro dairy and cheese making facility (in New Mexico) that simply had washable plastic walls ( FRP), a self closing door, and a gated area in front of the door to keep animals out. There was no requirement for fire separation.

The article reported stainless steel walls in the creamery, that sounds like it has covered airborne contaminates well enough. I doubt John has left the issue of keeping the cows out unresolved. So one must ask what purpose is served by the additional wall.

The building department has much flexibility under State law. They may not need to adhere rigorusly to the IBC. If the legitimate needs of safety for the occupants are met, that is the extent of their mandate. In an area 450 sf in size the fire safety issue is minor.

In the attempt to protect the public, many agencies have created one size fits all regulations. The more discretion they are allowed the better they can serve the actual needs of the situation. But it is their elected directors (the County Commissioners) who must direct that they use that flexibility to make things easier, not more difficult, for the individual. I hope the Commission will do so promptly. .

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

This is not a food health issue since that government agency does not have issues.

It is a building code issue in which the county building dept wants the milk processing facility to be built to commercial building codes. Commercial building code exist to protect employees and neighboring buildings. The legal system has long recognized that there are situations in which the wording of the law was violated, but the intent of the law was upheld and thus no crime was committed.

Since he owns the entire building located on his ranch, there is no potential to have someone else rent the other half, the resulting building would not be extra dangerous for firefighters and there is no plausible risk of fire in one side trapping employees in the other side then the contested fire codes are not needed to serve the purpose of those codes.

So County should just put some conditions on the buildings to be sure that Mr Weibel does not expand or change operations in a way that could put people at risk. A helpful building dept would figure out how to word the waiver for the County Commissioners to consider. It borders on insanity to say it is being helpful by allowing alternate construction materials to meet codes are not serving their intended purpose.

It is insulting for County Manager Sullivan to characterize Mr Weibel's request as a "free for all" after he gone through the state CDPHE (public health) to create a sanitary processing facility that meets their standards. He has shown a willing to follow the rules, but just objects when the rules serve no purpose.

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mark hartless 1 year, 7 months ago

I don't fault the building department for this; nor do I find the Commissioners totally unreasonable. Especially in the light of or by comparison to the rules other facilities have been required to recognize.

However, there is a problem here. It comes from the pervasive knee-jerk assumption one finds vocalized in the comment of John Fielding above. (I DO NOT have a bone to pick with Mr. Fielding)

The American people have become convinced that it is government which is responsible for their well-being, even to the point that they expect a bureaucrat to sample their milk; something kings had done for them centuries ago.

We can no longer rely on the free market to say: "hey dude, this milk sucks, it made me sick, I'm not buying it anymore and I want my money back and I'm telling everyone I know to not do business with you."

Isn't THAT as much a part of the "buy local" philosophy as where the milk (or cheese) actually comes from? Wouldn't THAT force Mr Weibel to make sure his product was clean and healthy? Wouldn't that allow Mr. Weibel to decide HOW he keeps his product clean and what expenses he incurrs doing so?

For all the lip-service this community gives to the value of "buying local" and "locally produced" goods, aren't a lot of the benefits of that philosophy swallowed up or negated by treating these endeavors like foriegner production facilities?

We are afraid of our own shadow and we expect the most unable entity there is to protect us with mountains of regulations.

Couldn't Mr Weibel build the "firewall" and still contaminate his cheese just by walking from barn to churn-room with the same dirty boots, or by letting the cheese sit out on a hot summer day? What regulation will we draw up for that contingency and who will we hire to enforec that?

A risk free life is a prohibitavely expensive thing.

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john bailey 1 year, 7 months ago

it states right in the IBC book itself. "subject to the local building official" at the inspecters discression.there are things that you can't possilble adhere to because of building construction. i see it all the time. love me some good local milk ;0)

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John Fielding 1 year, 7 months ago

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I do assume the government has taken responsibility for our safety. There are a few instances where I think they have not gone too far, very few. I personally favor a great deal more individual responsibility.

A perfect example is pasteurized milk. I produce my own milk, and do not pasteurize it. I believe it is far more healthful and certainly does not make me sick. I have also been known to kiss animals, especially dogs, and not always wash my hands of traces of manure or other dirt before eating with my fingers. I believe I actually strengthen my immune system thereby, and much recent research supports that concept.

But in the article, the statement quoted indicates that if Mr. Weibel was still operating as a raw dairy, there would be a much tougher stance. That is probably why he has moved to pasteurization. In fact pasteurized milk is just as subject to spoilage as raw milk, it only has had its previous biological activity killed. Unless the animal was diseased, that activity is benign or beneficial.

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Rick Pighini 1 year, 7 months ago

John I'm happy to hear you finally get a chance to discuss the issues that we've talked about down at MingleWood Timbers. Good luck and I hope logic prevails.

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John Weibel 1 year, 7 months ago

Finally read the article, there are numerous precautions taken to taken into account to ensure a clean healthy product. There are two doors between the milk parlor and the creamery to ensure the wind does not blow in contaminates.

From my discussions with others around the country almost all that are processing their products on their farm and only theirs are still considered agricultural.

In addition to the free for all, I spoke with Mr. Dunham prior to constructing the barn and did not need a permit for the milk parlor or room. After finding out there was no need for a permit I spoke with CDPHE to ensure that I followed their rules and regulations to comply with all state health codes. Had the electrical installed by a licensed electrician to code and have tried very hard to design a septic system that will work for the state and county, to little avail as there are no examples of a dairy of this size putting in a system.

The rules were designed for industrial agriculture, not small scale agriculture, which the State of Colorado understands as it passed the cottage foods bill to promote small scale local agriculture. Which, I hope to get the county to provide an environment which also helps fosters local small scale agriculture, of which is one of the fastest growing segments of tourism - agritourism.

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