The poultry industry has offered to donate $1.1 million to the Scenic Rivers Commission.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Monday he was concerned that a $1.1 million donation offered by several poultry companies to the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission may be an effort to affect the outcome of his suit against the companies. The donation is more than double the commission's budget. In an August letter to several entities, Rick Stubblefield, Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission chairman, asks for money for a variety of purposes, including erosion control.
He got few responses. But one response was from Janet Wilkerson on behalf of Peterson Farms, Inc., Tyson Foods, Inc., Simmons Foods, Inc, George's, Inc., Cargill Turkey Production, LLC, and Willow Brook Foods, Inc., all defendants in the state's case. Wilkerson offers the donation, but asks for a resolution saying, "One of the greatest threats to the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller is the continual erosion and loss of soil from stream banks due to improper clearing of vegetation along streams, banks, often times to allow cattle direct access to streams," among other things.
It was just one of a number of points in the letter. At issue in the lawsuit is Edmondson's allegation that spreading excess chicken litter as fertilizer has polluted eastern Oklahoma watersheds. Scott McDaniel, an attorney for Peterson, said the letter is being misread. The companies are willing to give the donation with a simple acknowledgement, he said.
The poultry companies wanted a resolution because they "had been constantly attacked and accused of doing nothing, which is neither correct nor fair," McDaniel said. "All the industry was asking is that the commission publicly acknowledge that these companies are making this contribution." When asked if the resolution will be used in court, he said he didn't have an answer and didn't know how it could be used.
The actual resolution the commission was set to vote on Tuesday does not contain the wording indicated in Wilkerson's letter. The special meeting was canceled after Edmondson's office notified the commission it had not given proper notice for the meeting and the wording on the agenda did not provide sufficient notice to the public regarding what was to be discussed. The meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday. Gerald Hilsher, a Tulsan who is vice chairman of the commission, said he was concerned about the intent of the gift, saying perhaps the industry letter was "inartfully drafted." Erosion is definitely concern, but whether or not it is one of the greatest threats are subjective, he said.
"In my personal opinion, one of the greatest is the proliferation of chicken houses with the practice of dumping chicken litter on the ground as supposed fertilizer," Hilsher said. If the companies want a resolution stating that erosion is one of the greatest threats, Hilsher said he couldn't agree with it. "I am not prepared to say at this point that is their intention," Hilsher said." He wants an explanation from the companies as to what they want from the commission.
Stubblefield is steadfast in his concern about the toll erosion is taking on the watershed and landowners. "This was simply a matter of us trying to remedy a problem that is not isolated," he said. "It is a growing problem." Edmondson said he is concerned about the proposed contribution. "I think anything the poultry companies do to mitigate the damage they are doing in Oklahoma is a good thing," Edmondson said. "I am very concerned that the gift is not without strings."