By SEAN ELLIS
CALDWELL, Idaho -- A coalition of farm groups has grave concerns about a proposal to move the Canyon County Fair from Caldwell to an 80-acre site located in the middle of thousands of acres of farmland.
After an initial review, the Coalition for Agriculture's Future believes the $40 million project proposed by the Canyon County Fair Board would lead to an irreversible onslaught of commercial and residential development in the area and eventually consume huge chunks of additional farmland.
"The coalition has measured the economic, social and physical impacts of moving the fair to the new site against accepted land-use practices involving agricultural lands and the proposal as it exists would be harmful in every aspect," said CAF Executive Director Roger Batt.
Batt said CAF members are also concerned it would trigger an escalation of land costs and hamper farmers from buying or renting farmland in the general area.
Canyon County Fair Board Chairman Tim Lowber said the fair's mission is to promote agriculture and the last thing the group wants is for more farmland to be lost.
That 80-acre site likely would have been turned into subdivisions if it wasn't purchased for the new fair, he said. He also said the fair board will be the first ones to lobby for keeping the surrounding areas zoned agriculture.
"I don't see a county fair being a magnet for an onslaught of commercial development in that area," said Lowber, who used to farm in the county. "We would like to see it stay zoned agriculture all around the county fair."
The new site is located about 12 miles from the current fair location, about a mile west of CanAda Road off of Highway 20.
Lowber said the new site is needed to accommodate growth of the fair because the current site has limited usable space. The site was purchased in 2009 and the board plans to begin building in about two years if enough money can be raised for the project.
The CAF, which includes 25 of the area's largest agribusinesses and ag-related associations and companies, will attempt to get answers and explanations from the fair board before deciding whether to formally oppose the project, Batt said.
But the initial review found nothing positive about the proposed move, said Dick Larsen, the CAF's public affairs consultant.
Once the process of ag land being turned into commercial development starts in that area, it will be impossible to stop, he said. There are multiple examples of this happening around the valley, which is why the coalition was formed, he said.
"Commercial development starts and the land rush is on," he said. "We've seen that over and over and over."
Batt said the proposed new site is located in middle of a large swath of productive agricultural land and the commercial nature of the project would result in land use that is completely incompatible with adjacent land uses.