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AG plans lawsuit against several companies


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson is preparing to go to court to make sure poultry companies properly dispose of chicken waste.

Edmondson said Monday his environmental protection unit is compiling the data to file the first of a number of lawsuits against chicken companies. He doesn't know when the first will be filed.

``I suspect before it's over, all the growers will be included,'' he said.

Edmondson said he expects the lawsuits will seek millions of dollars, which would be used to help clean Oklahoma reservoirs that he says have been damaged by chicken litter disposal.

``They've claimed growers are independent contractors and the companies bear no responsibility for waste disposal,'' he said. ``We don't believe that's true, legally or factually.''

Large Arkansas poultry companies contract with chicken farmers on both sides of the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. Oklahoma long has alleged that runoff from the chicken houses on both sides damages Oklahoma water.

In December, the city of Tulsa sued six poultry companies and the city of Decatur, Ark., demanding the cleanup of Eucha and Spavinaw lakes, which supply Tulsa's drinking water.

Poultry companies have said they have worked with their farmers to use good waste management practices. But a sticking point has been whether the poultry companies or the contract chicken farmers are ultimately responsible for what happens to the chicken litter.

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor said the office recently became aware of the pending Edmondson lawsuits and could comment little without seeing them.

``If we can resolve these issues outside of court, we should,'' spokesman Michael Teague said. ``The poultry industry is a great asset for this state and a world leader in the production of poultry.''

A spokesman for The Poultry Federation, which represents poultry companies in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, did not return telephone calls to The Daily Oklahoman, which reported on Edmondson's plans in Monday's editions.

Teague said Arkansas would like to get both sides to sit down and negotiate.

Edmondson said he visited with the chicken companies the day before the Tulsa lawsuit but the sides remained steadfast on the issue of who is responsible for the waste.

``I insist that they accept it and so far they are refusing and I don't think that's a negotiable point,'' Edmondson said. ``If they were to move on that point I'd be happy to sit down and visit with them on where we go from here, how they will exercise that responsibility. But I see no point in discussion as long as that point is unresolved.''

Chicken houses produce tons of chicken manure. Wood shavings or other bedding often is disposed of by applying it to the land. The phosphorus in the litter is a valuable fertilizer but it can pollute water if it makes its way into waterways.
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