Trampled by Oil Company, Legendary Dog Trainer Fights for His Land and Rights

(EnviroNews Idaho) — Payette, Idaho — Southwest Idaho’s natural gas trade has just seventeen wells, of which only one is officially in production. As more infrastructure is needed to support the nascent industry some area businesses may be thrown under the bus to accommodate increased gas production.

The first commerce casualty of the growing fossil fuel extraction could be Goosebuster Retrievers, a world-class dog training facility owned by Pete Eremenok.

Goosebuster Retrievers has been a 30-year labor of love and was supposed to be Eremenok’s retirement. After owning and operating dog-training facilities in eastern Idaho and Pennsylvania, Eremenok moved to New Plymouth, Idaho to establish a new kennel and schooling grounds.

However, his future plans and very livelihood may be in danger by a liquid natural gas transportation and processing facility proposed by Alta Mesa Idaho (AMI).

The 35-acre plant is slated to be built along a hotly contested expanded railroad spur not 200 feet from where Eremenok coaches retrievers and competition canines to fetch ducks and point out upland birds on 40 acres of lush grasses, waterway and ponds.

Even Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has tapped Eremenok’s skills to provide training for his Australian Shepherd and Labrador. While most of his clientele is from Idaho, Eremenok sees pooches from across the country.

AMI’s would-be facility is critical for the successful development of the area’s natural gas deposits by creating a way for the company to prepare and transport its gas to market by rail.

AMI received the necessary conditional use permit from the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission in September, but Eremenok filed an appeal in hopes of saving his business and way of life. He and his wife live on the site as well. They own over an acre of land and have a lifetime lease on the remaining 44 acres.

On December 5, Eremenok spoke before the commissioners as part of his appeal. The meeting, which also heard two additional appeals on the AMI plant, drew a large crowd of over 100 people.

In addition to a loss of property value, Eremenok said he will no longer be able to train man’s best friend on his land if the gas plant is built. Not only does he worry about the dogs’ safety, but the planned industrialization would be unsightly and hamper marketing to his elite clientele, who pay about $500 a month for Goosebuster’s services.

“People see a refinery and they’re not impressed,” Eremenok told EnviroNews in a phone interview. “I’ll definitely lose business.”

Eremenok said the unique aspects of his leased property allow him to train dogs in both controlled and “live” situations.

Ponds on the western boundary don’t freeze in the winter and are a draw to migrating fowl. Training hunting dogs in the field allows Eremenok to finish dogs in their final months of instruction, which can take up to 18 months.

Unfortunately those ponds would neighbor AMI’s gas plant. He wouldn’t be able to shoot in that direction and the facility may be an untenable distraction for the dogs, not to mention it would likely keep the birds from landing in the ponds or thick grasses and brush.

“It’s very important when people are taking their dogs home that they have [had] that real hunting experience,” Eremenok said.

Eremenok is chagrined that a year ago county P&Z commissioners gave him the needed zoning variance to expand his kennels, and he has since sunk about $100,000 into a new facility.

“We saved up the money and are paying for it ourselves,” Eremenok said.

According to paperwork filed with his appeal the expanded kennels are about 85 percent complete, but Eremenok has ceased construction due to an uncertain future.

“We had no reason to think that our money was not well spent,” the paper says.

Eremenok contends the county was wrong to approve AMI’s permit for several reasons. During the recent meeting he pointed out that every neighbor was against it, safety issues aren’t being considered, county commissioners may have a conflict of interest by themselves having leased their gas rights and that no longer being able to run his business constitutes an unlawful taking by the county.

His paperwork also explicitly outlines why the zoning change granted to AMI was illegal under county code as well as federal and state law.

As commissioners won’t make a decision on Eremenok’s appeal until after the New Year, the professional trainer is taking it one day at a time.

“I’m not against one of these things, but it needs to be in the right place,” he told EnviroNews.

Trampled by Oil Company, Legendary Dog Trainer Fights for His Land and Rights