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Raid On Garbage-Filled Farm Yields No Citations Animals Were Rescued 16 Days Ago, But Officials Say Conditions Not Illegal

SUNDAY, JUNE 1, 1997

The goats are gone now, and the chickens are living in a coop instead of the spare bedroom.

But little else has changed on Londro Smith’s Mead farm since animal control officers raided it 16 days ago.

In fact, the 10-acre pig farm on East Farwell Road hasn’t changed much in 20 years, according to county records. And it’s not likely to, officials say.

Trash and old vegetables have rotted in 3-foot piles on Smith’s land for two decades. Every summer, a swarm of flies has buzzed over mounds of manure. The stench of landfill has been omnipresent since Ronald Reagan made his successful run for the presidency.

The deplorable conditions on Smith’s farm made news on May 15 when animal control officers rescued 11 badly neglected goats from a pen on the land. They have since been cleaned up and auctioned off.

Animal control agents also discovered nearly 200 chickens living inside the 81-year-old man’s house with him, said Nancy Sattin, the county’s animal control director.

Smith apparently moved the chickens in the house to keep them warm, Sattin said.

“I just cannot believe that it was allowed to get to this point,” she said.

Neither can neighbors, who have complained steadily since 1979, according to county records. Officials say they are sympathetic, but quickly add there is little they can do.

“This is still a free country,” said Allan deLaubenfels, Spokane County zoning enforcement officer. “He’s really not breaking any laws.”

Smith began keeping hogs on the land in the mid-1950s, when Farwell Road was still out in the country and the property was zoned for agricultural uses.

At times, he kept as many as 100 pigs on the parcel, along with hundreds of chickens and some cattle.

He also began collecting junk of all kinds, from beat-up cars to plastic milk jugs.

For a quarter century, no one complained about the way Smith used his land or the smell that emanated from it when the weather got warm.

There simply wasn’t anyone around to notice, and Smith didn’t mind, deLaubenfels said. “In his head, he’s doing the right thing,” the zoning officer said.

But in the late 1970s, residential neighborhoods began to spread out of northern Spokane and into the surrounding farm land.

It wasn’t long before Smith had neighbors. Complaints about his farm followed closely behind.

In 1979, according to county records, then-zoning inspector Ted McCoury visited Smith’s farm after receiving a complaint about a horrid smell blowing off the property.

“I made a visual inspection on July 5, 1979, and found the place an awful mess,” McCoury said in a letter to Smith. “These odors and flies must be controlled by cleaning up the old plastic bags and milk cartons and anything else that might create an odor and draw flies.”

Since then, nearly 20 formal complaints have been filed against Smith, according to Spokane Regional Health District records.

In 1989, a group of 41 residents sent the health district a letter begging officials to do something about the mess.

Four years later, a neighbor complained that the smell was so bad it woke up a visitor “in the middle of the night.”

DeLaubenfels said an equal number of complaints have been filed with the zoning department over the years.

But Smith isn’t violating any zoning laws, and health officials would have to file hard-to-prove criminal charges in order to force him to do something, officials say.

“Londro Smith has been doing this since before there was any regulation against it,” deLaubenfels said. “He has a valid, non-conforming right to a pile of junk.”

Until recently, Smith’s animal husbandry practices won approval from county extension agents as well.

Extension engineer Ronald Hermanson said in a 1986 report that Smith was “going beyond normal practice” by spreading lime on manure piles to keep the smell down.

Health district officials have issued cleanup orders a half dozen times over the past two decades, and each time Smith took steps to comply.

“I feel that Mr. Smith is taking reasonable efforts to control the odors on his farm and that no further action is necessary,” a county air pollution officer said in a 1993 report.

Smith is puzzled by all the controversy. He said recently he’s just a poor farmer who “graduated from junior college and been working hard ever since.”

He sells eggs, pigs and cows to pay his bills.

Ten years ago, he told a zoning inspector he couldn’t understand “why people would move into an area with a pig farm and then start complaining about it,” according to county records.

Health district officials sent Smith another letter last week ordering him to clean up his land by July.

“All containers used for dairy products, breads and other food items, along with the rotting vegetative matter and animal hides shall be disposed of with the highest priority,” wrote David Swink, environmental health director.

DeLaubenfels has asked Smith to move four junked cars behind some fencing, and Sattin said her agents are visiting Smith periodically to make sure he takes care of his remaining animals.

But deLaubenfels said there’s not much else the government can do. He suggested neighbors consider buying Smith out if they really can’t take it anymore.

“This is a land-use conflict. Some of them we can resolve. Some we can’t. This one we can’t,” the zoning officer said. “If Mr. Smith has a right to be there, and he does, then I’m sorry, you’ll just have to buy nose plugs.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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