Poultry companies notified Oklahoma entities Friday that they will become third-party defendants in a federal lawsuit..
Poultry firms enlist others in water suit
BY ROBERT J. SMITH ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE 4/9/05
Five poultry companies notified 130 Oklahoma entities Friday that they will become third-party defendants in a federal lawsuit if Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson files it. Janet Wilkerson, a vice president for Decatur-based Peterson Farms, said the poultry companies advised cities, businesses and individuals that they will be third parties in the suit Edmondson has threatened against poultry companies. "We really, really didn’t want to do it," Wilkerson said. "But once the 90-day notice was filed, the clock started ticking for us. We only had a certain amount of time to file the third-party notice." Edmondson accuses the poultry companies of violating the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act in their handling of litter from poultry houses. The litter contains phosphorus, which can contribute to algae bloom and other water-quality problems. Edmondson notified the poultry companies March 9 that he’d filed a required 90-day federal lawsuit notice. The notice went to Arkansas-based companies Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, George’s Inc. of Springdale, Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs, Cobb-Vantress Inc. of Siloam Springs and Peterson Farms. Companies with operations in Arkansas that received the notice were Willow Brook Foods of Springfield, Mo., Cal-Maine Farms of Jackson, Miss., Aviagen Inc. of Huntsville, Ala., and Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis. Only Tyson Foods, Peterson Farms, Simmons, George’s and Willow Brook Foods participated in sending Friday’s notice. The other companies opted not to, Wilkerson said. The 130 entities notified include owners and operators of sewer plants and septic systems, campgrounds, golf courses, marinas, nurseries, cattle operations, horse operations, hay operations and users of commercial fertilizer in eastern Oklahoma. Tahlequah, Okla., Mayor Ken Purdy confirmed receiving the notice and said Watts and Westville got them, as well. "We understand we have a role in the overall environmental quality of the water we utilize and put back into the scenic river," Purdy said. No Arkansas entities received the third-party notice, Wilkerson said. Edmondson’s office was advised Friday that the poultry companies were sending the notice. "We understood that they would be doing this, so we weren’t surprised," said Emily Lang, an Edmondson spokesman. "We are not attempting to drag anybody else into the lawsuit," she said. "This is something the poultry companies felt they needed to do." If Edmondson believes the poultry companies are polluting Oklahoma’s scenic rivers, it stands to reason that the 130 cities, individuals and other entities that discharge phosphorus should be part of the lawsuit, Wilkerson said. "Poultry litter represents only a fraction of the excess nutrient challenges facing Oklahoma water bodies," Wilkerson said. Lang and Wilkerson said they remain hopeful that negotiations between the attorney general’s office and the poultry companies can resume with a mediator in May. Talks ended Jan. 6, when Edmondson accused the poultry industry of "delay and deceit" tactics.