January 20, 2023
Save the Illinois River President Denise Deason-Toyne and former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson issued the following statements after Tulsa Federal District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell's ruling upholding Oklahoma's lawsuit against Arkansas poultry corporations.
-------------------------------- Statement of STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne
STIR is quite pleased and relieved that the Honorable Judge Frizzell has ruled in favor of the State of Oklahoma on its claims against various Poultry companies. This decision solidifies STIR's mission of protecting the Illinois River, its tributaries and TenKiller Lake from point and non-point source pollution. STIR has been battling since 1984 to protect this watershed and this decision sends a clear message that this battle, while certainly not over, is in the right.
STIR will likely not have input into the agreement on remedial action, but we will stress that any such agreement must have measurable actions which are subject to oversight and review with transparency being key. For example, if part of the agreement is for removal of poultry litter from the watershed, we would want transparency in records regarding how much is removed, where it was taken and whether it is being applied in other watersheds. We will defer to the attorneys to develop a tentative agreement and will probably have more comments after we review any such proposed agreement.
Attorney at Law
---------------------------------------------------Statement of former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson
The lawsuit to protect our beloved Illinois River, its watershed and Lake Tenkiller, was filed in 2005 after several years of attempting to negotiate a resolution of the poultry waste issues had failed. On page 5 of the court’s ruling Judge Frizzell pointed out that the case was tried for 52 days over five months creating a transcript of 11,889 pages and 8,392 pages of admitted exhibits. Last Wednesday, January 18, 2023, the court issued its findings in a 214 page document. It was a home run for the trial team and a very good day for the River.
Essentially the court ruled that the State of Oklahoma prevailed on its claims under state and federal nuisance statutes, under trespass, and in our alleged statutory violations. It found that the poultry companies were responsible for pollution of the watershed with excess application of poultry litter which allowed massive amounts of phosphorous to transport into our creeks and streams, then into our rivers and finally into Lake Tenkiller. The court also found that other sources of phosphorous, golf courses, nurseries, point source from water treatment facilities, cattle and wildlife, were minimal contributors compared to poultry.
The court also found that the companies, not the growers, were responsible and liable for the damage.
There is still a process ahead – it is not over. The court gave the parties until March 17 to come up with a proposed settlement based upon his rulings. That would suggest a series of meetings with the industry and Attorney General Drummond. First and foremost the settlement must protect the watershed. Secondly, and hopefully, there will be resources for reclamation, reversing the damages
done. And, the law firms involved should be able to recover their costs, at a minimum. So we begin anew to bring this industry into compliance with state and federal law and the moral imperative to protect the environment for future generations.
If the industry is not willing to participate in such a settlement, the court will enter its judgment and very likely both sides will appeal. The clock will begin to run anew.
Attorney General, 1995-2011