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Environmental Group Sues Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Over Poultry Facility Oversight

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The Spring Creek Coalition is suing the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, arguing that there has been a lack of environmental oversight over poultry facilities moving into the area.

Beth Rooney, the president of the group, said there has been no notification from the department to residents in the area that the facilities have moved into the area. Rooney argues this isn’t fair to residents.

“You don't have any due process, any right to protest or make your concerns heard,” Rooney said.

According to the lawsuit filed on March 3 in the Delaware County Court, the community was concerned the communities living near the Spring Creek watershed in northeastern Oklahoma were experiencing environmental impacts from the chicken farms.

In December 2020, the Coalition submitted letters to ODAFF protesting the re-issuance of eight poultry facility registrations. The lawsuit claims they did not receive a response from ODAFF and the department reissued the registrations without considering or responding to the Coalition’s protests.

Rooney said the goal of the lawsuit is to protect the creek from environmental harm.

“It is truly a unique and beautiful Creek. And we would like it to stay calm and clear and pristine. We say it's the last pristine Ozark stream in Oklahoma,” Rooney said.

Under the Oklahoma Registered Poultry Feeding Operations Act, poultry facilities are required to have a nutrient management plan to handle waste from chickens and avoid contamination of water. Every facility also has to do an annual soil test near nutrient-limited watersheds.

Environmental advocate groups like the Green Country Guardians have argued that regulation has not kept up with the change in the industry. ODAFF passed a new rule in 2019 mandating farms with more than 150,000 birds be a certain distance away from places like schools, houses and streams. Oklahoma lawmakers have said that it’s too soon to make changes.

Researchers are currently studying the possible effects of the facilities on air quality, but ODAFF general counsel Teena Gunter has previously said ODAFF has no authority to enforce changes if there is pollution.

Morgan Vance, chief of communications for ODAFF said she could not comment on the lawsuit. However, Vance said state statute does not require the department to notify residents when a poultry facility enters the area and changing that would require action by state lawmakers.

No court hearings are scheduled for the lawsuit.

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Seth Bodine was KOSU's agriculture and rural issues reporter from June 2020 to February 2022.
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