Poultry industry pecks back
By Chad Previch
List of defendants
Companies sued by Attorney General Drew Edmondson for their usage of chicken litter filed a third-party complaint Tuesday in Tulsa federal
court. The filing added 161 agricultural, municipal and commercial operators as defendants.
Last on the list of third-party defendants is John and/or Jane Doe(s), which poultry industry spokeswoman Janet Wilkerson said
represents anyone with a septic tank in the watershed.
"It is unfortunate that this step was necessary," said Wilkerson, a vice president for Peterson Farms in Decatur, Ark. "But the attorney
general is seeking to hold the poultry industry 100 percent liable for all of man's and nature's influences in the Illinois (River)
watershed, while turning a blind eye to what is really occurring."
If a judge or jury asks the poultry industry to pay for cleanup, Tuesday's filing asks that third-party defendants be found responsible, too.
She said there is no admission of guilt by adding third-party defendants, which include golf courses, marinas, nurseries and three
towns. She said they were added because they are doing what Edmondson has accused poultry companies of doing: adding nutrients and
chemicals to the river.
Edmondson called Tuesday's move an effort to apply political pressure to his office.
"The poultry industry has declared war on eastern Oklahoma, and they've just taken hostages," he said. "The industry can blame golf courses or nurseries or homeowners with septic tanks, but in an area where chickens far outnumber people, it's clear who's muddying the waters."
Wilkerson said she thinks the third-party defendants might rally around the poultry industry.
Support won't come from Burnt Cabin Marina & Resort on Lake Tenkiller. The filing states fertilizers and chemicals from the resort find their way into the watershed.
Owner Donna Parker said she supports Edmondson fully and hopes he doesn't cave to any pressure placed on his office. She said she wouldn't pollute the lake, mainly because it would hurt business.
"Our livelihood depends on the number of boaters ... and the quality of the water is definitely an issue," she said.
Three Oklahoma municipalities -- Tahlequah, Westville and Watts -- were named third-party defendants. Poultry representatives said
Tahlequah applies fertilizers and other chemicals to its golf course, which is within the watershed. The third-party complaint states the chemicals run into the water.
Tahlequah City Attorney Park Medearis called Tuesday's filing an "annoyance."
"If they're counting on the allegiance of innocent parties, I don't think their strategy's going to prevail," Medearis said.
The city will tell the court there is no evidence Tahlequah has added any pollution, Medearis said.
Wilkerson said the attorney general's lawsuit is ridiculous and that neither a state nor federal agency ever told farmers they were participating in illegal activities.
The poultry companies also filed a motion to dismiss the suit Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
Edmondson has sued 14 companies -- Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb Vantress Inc., Aviagen Inc., Cal-Maine
Foods Inc., Cal-Maine Farms Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.
He said the companies are overusing litter, which is causing odor, taste and algae problems.