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Monson family will continue operating cattle feed mill

The Monson family may be moving its cattle feedlot operation out of the Sunnyside area, but that doesn't mean the Monsons won't be conducting business here.

Wednesday's announcement that the city of Sunnyside had purchased the 150-acre feedlot from the Monsons didn't include the news that an adjoining 20-acre site will be kept in the family holdings. Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell confirmed yesterday afternoon that the Monsons will continue operating their custom feed operation on that 20-acre parcel of land.

"They will be retaining the milling operation," Stockwell said.

City of Sunnyside officials, after several months of serious discussions with the Monson family, struck a deal to purchase the 150-acre feedlot for $2.5 million. The money will be paid in three installments, all tied to the phased closure of the cattle operation and the clean-up of the site.

The money to be paid to the Monson family won't be generated by implementing local taxes or fees, or by asking local citizens to approve a bond measure. Instead, the city is making an internal loan to itself, from invested reserves that are currently yielding low returns. At the present time, Stockwell said Thursday afternoon, the city has approximately $7 million tied up in invested reserves.

As part of the agreement, the Monsons will not have any cattle delivered to the feedlot after February of next year. The sales agreement also stipulates that all of the cattle, which routinely number more than 2,000 on any given day, will be removed from the site no later than Aug. 31 of next year.

Most in the community are viewing the purchase of the feedlot, located near the west entrance into Sunnyside along Yakima Valley Highway, as positive news. Proponents of the purchase agreement expect an improvement in the air quality, and expect the western corridor into Sunnyside to be brightened with either residential, business or industrial developments.

Wednesday evening's announcement that a deal had been brokered with the Monson family also included the news that the Monsons will be responsible for the clean-up of the site. That is to include the removal of the corrals and outbuildings on the 150-acre site, as well as the removal of the manure and "black soil."

Stockwell explained yesterday that the "black soil" is the soil that is situated immediately below the accumulation of the cow manure.

He further detailed that plans do not include filling in the site with fill dirt.

"We should be able to go in and just level the site," Stockwell said.

Because of the high nitrate level in the soil, as recent test results have indicated, it is highly probable that the city will contract with a local farmer to plant a crop at the site once the clean-up and removal of "black soil" is completed. Stockwell said a crop such as alfalfa will leach many of the nitrates out of the soil. He added that if the clean-up goes according to the timeline set up in the agreement, a 2006 fall planting is possible.

In responding to which party would be responsible for any future claims against the property, ecologically speaking, Stockwell said federal statute clearly defines that area of the law.

"Whoever causes any such issue is held responsible," he said. Stockwell said that is not a concern, though, as tests have revealed there is no ground water contamination at the site.

The future development of the 150-acre site is unclear at this time. Stockwell said no one has shown an interest thus far in purchasing any of that land from the city, which is how Sunnyside officials hope to recoup the $2.5 million they are borrowing from invested reserves.

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