NORTHEAST OKLAHOMA — A federal judge ruled Wednesday in favor of the state of Oklahoma in its 17-year-old battle with several Arkansas and Missouri poultry companies.
The State of Oklahoma filed the civil lawsuit in 2005.
Northern District Federal Judge Gregory Frizzell released his 219-page Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law showing the poultry companies’ improper litter disposal had damaged the recreational waters of the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller.
“This is a great and historic day for Oklahoma,” said Gentner Drummond, Oklahoma State Attorney in a prepared statement. “While this decision has been a long time coming, it is important to note that in the intervening years since the filing of the suit, the poultry industry has made, or is willing to make, strong improvements in waste disposal to ameliorate the extent of the problem. Oklahoma has amazing natural resources that deserve our vigilant protection. We will thoroughly review the judge’s decision and determine the appropriate path forward.”
“Historically, defendants have done little—if anything—to provide for or ensure appropriate handling or management of the poultry waste generated by their birds at their growers’ houses. The evidence adduced at trial establishes that none of the defendants took any steps to do so,” according to the federal document.
The poultry companies and their subsidiaries in the lawsuit are: Tyson Foods, Inc.; Tyson Poultry, Inc.; Tyson Chicken, Inc.; Cobb-Vantress, Inc.; Cal-Maine Foods, Inc.; Cargill, Inc.; Cargill Turkey Productions, LLC.; George’s, Inc.; George’s Farms, Inc.; Peterson Farms, Inc. and Simmons Foods, Inc.
Representatives with Tyson Foods did not return phone calls.
Between 2000 and 2007, more than 703 million birds belonged to the Tyson, 23 million birds belonged to the Cargill, 105 million birds belong to George, 162 million birds belonged to Simmons, 121 birds belonged to Peterson and 4 million birds belonged to Cal-Main were raised in the Illinois River Watershed, according to the document.
“…the court finds that the rivers and streams of the IRW (Illinois River Watershed) have elevated phosphorus concentration levels above natural or background levels,” and “The court further finds that phosphorus concentrations in excess of natural or background levels have caused degradation of water quality in the rivers and streams of the IRW (Illinois River Watershed),” according to the document.
Trial testimony between $11 million to $16 million was spent by tourists visiting the Illinois River Watershed in 2007. The river drew an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people for recreation and out of those tourists, approximately 150,000 to 180,000 are potential floaters, trial testimony showed. The remaining numbers would be swimmers, fishermen, hunters, campers, day users, equestrian tours, mountain bike rides, motorcycle poker runs, foliage tours, church baptisms and retreats, groups, and camps.
About 2.6 million people visited Lake Tenkiller, including 350,000 boaters in 2007, according to trial testimony.
“The court finds that the decreases in water clarity in Lake Tenkiller are having an adverse impact on recreational activities and aesthetics,” according to the legal document.
More than 8,000 exhibits were admitted during the five-month trial.
Judge Frizzell ordered the parties to reach an agreement by March 17. If an agreement is not reached Frizzell will render a judgment.