This anti-horse slaughter billboard on Second Street is sponsored by EquiArmy NDO.net and The American Horse Rescue Network. The groups could not be located for comment. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
As the 30-day temporary stop order on Valley Meat Co.’s horse slaughter operation nears an end, local law enforcement is prepping for a possible onslaught of protesters and media at the facility.
Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon said plans are in place to handle whoever might show up on the two-lane country road in front of owner Rick De Los Santos’ small plant.
“The main goal is to keep the road open,” Coon told county commissioners last week. “What goes on behind the gate is none of our business.”
Valley Meat’s plan to proceed as the nation’s first horse slaughter operation since 2007 was stopped temporarily by Albuquerque-based U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo Aug. 2.
But a recent attempt by animal activists to escape from paying a court-ordered bond to Valley Meat and another plant might have disrupted the timeline.
The Humane Society of the United States, the animal rights group that spearheaded the lawsuit against the USDA to halt inspections at Valley Meat and other U.S. plants, filed a new motion last week to have the ruling clarified.
Armijo signed an order Friday that has put the case back on shaky ground.
Following the court ruling, HSUS and the other plaintiffs were ordered to put up a bond of $495,000 to Valley Meat and another plant in Sigourney, Iowa, to cover financial losses following Armijo’s ruling.
The animal rights activists now claim the temporary restraining order is “potentially invalid,” and that the bond has “dramatic financial implications” for the animal-welfare groups.
The USDA, and the two horse meat processing plants, have until Wednesday to respond to the animal rights groups’ motion for the review of the bond and temporary restraining order.
If allowed to proceed, the plaintiff’s motion seeks an expedited review of Armijo’s original order to stop the USDA from dispatching inspectors to and allowing inspection services at Valley Meat and the Iowa plant, “until further order.”
Coon said he has already been contacted by USDA inspectors and a local USDA veterinarian.
“(Valley Meat) is going to open, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Coon said. “We’ve never had something like this that we’ve had to deal with.”
The plan is to keep protesters off the stretch of Cedarvale Road, in front of Valley Meat, he said.
Valley Meat is fenced off and located near a bend in the road. The property is surrounded by ranchland and a dairy. The roadway is dangerously close to private land, with no public walkway between the two.
“We need to protect the well-being of our citizens and provide safe accommodation in and out of that property,” said Commissioner Greg Nibert.
Law enforcement would be instructed to keep any protesters off the roadway.
The USDA veterinarian will be escorted into the plant by county sheriff’s deputies. The local veterinarian will be on site daily to ensure the animals are treated humanely at all times, Coon said. USDA inspectors, who called him for advice, said they had “no contingency plan for the safety of the USDA people.”
Coon also reported that detectives had not made any progress in the arson investigation at Valley Meat.
The plant reported a fire July 27 that appeared intentionally set. The blaze burned part of the exterior of the building and damaged a refrigeration unit.