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When It Comes To Chickens, The 'Buck' Stops In Bingen

Council has no desire to revisit issue

By BEN MITCHELL

The Enterprise

Over the past couple years, a trend has been developing that shows Bingen and White Salmon residents are big fans of our feathered friends.

Controversy erupted in September of 2009 when Duffy, a pet duck, was spotted by a city animal control officer in the yard of Bingen couple Oliver Pochert and Michelle Halbin.

At the time, Bingen municipal code prohibited poultry and other barnyard animals within city limits. This law meant that harboring a duck -- for the purposes of food or friend -- in the city of Bingen was illegal and Duffy had to go.

Public support for Duffy influenced the council to eventually alter the ordinance in December 2009. Ducks are now welcomed in Bingen, albeit with a cap of no more than three per dwelling.

The White Salmon City Council also recently amended the city's own livestock ordinance, which previously disallowed chickens inside the city limits. The proposal to admit chickens to the city was on the agenda for a public meeting held during the council's April 18 regular meeting. Public comments demonstrated unanimous support, the motion was adopted and White Salmon residents can now own chickens, provided they pay permitting and application fees.

The same issue was brought up during last week's regular meeting of the Bingen City Council. Jackie and Preston Cox, residents of Bingen, asked the council during the public comment period if it would follow White Salmon's lead and amend the city livestock ordinance, which also has a ban on chickens. They said they wanted to raise the chickens for eggs and wanted their daughter to have a "hands-on learning experience" with animals.

"We're one of the few communities in the area that don't allow '[chickens]," explained Jackie at the meeting, "and White Salmon has recently passed the ordinance to add them. I've been gardening a lot the past few years and I just want to add that one more part of my healthy lifestyle."

Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes explained that the council had visited the issue multiple times in the past and had decided against the chickens.

Jackie mentioned that she was aware that the council had changed the ordinance in the past to allow ducks and should now allow chickens as well.

"I really don't see that much of a difference between ducks and chickens," she said.

Council Member Laura Mann said that the issue simply came down to a matter of lot size and that Bingen's 50-by-100-foot lots were smaller than White Salmon's and not large enough to support chickens.

"Most people would want to put the coop on the corner of their property and that would abut someone else's property," Mann explained.

Council Member Clinton Bryan said he was raised on a farm and also loves animals, but that didn't mean everyone else in Bingen would be as tolerant.

"We can't only think of ourselves," he said, "we have to think of our neighbors."

Barnes asked for Council Member Maria Perez's opinion on the issue. Perez said she did not want to comment.

Jackie countered the lot size claims and said that she had looked at ordinances "from Beaverton to Goldendale" and determined that most did not address lot size.

Barnes said she had looked at several ordinances which did have lot size restrictions.

Jackie replied that according to her research, one chicken only needs two square feet of space to live.

"We also looked at disease," Barnes then responded, "and chickens do carry more disease than ducks."

Council Member Catherine Kiewit said she was a proponent of the chickens, but also agreed most of Bingen's lots were too small to adequately support fowl-rearing activities. She indicated that it would likely take a groundswell of chicken advocates for the current council to change its mind.

"If you want to go to your neighbors and get like a big movement going," Kiewit offered, "and come back to us with some more people that say, 'look this is really important' and maybe the atmosphere or the dynamic of the city has changed a lot and we need to look at it again, I would be happy to look at it."

Barnes said that she felt like the majority of the council had no desire to revisit the issue at this time and thus, no action was taken to do so.

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