Poultry Council Gives Check To River Group

Tuesday, February 17th 2009, 10:29 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, OK -- The fight over poultry waste pollution in the Illinois watershed has been raging for years.  Oklahoma is suing poultry companies, but on Tuesday, bitter enemies set aside their differences. 

Poultry representatives presented a state agency with the last installment of a $1.1 million gift.

To some, they may appear to be strange bedfellows, the Poultry Community Council and the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.  But, there was one side handing over a check to the other on Tuesday evening.

"Of course, we've had bad press in the past, but I'm thinking if you look past that, look at the factual information, you'll find the poultry industry at the forefront of conservation efforts," said the Poultry Community Council's Jackie Cunningham.

Over the past five years, the poultry industry has given a total of $1.1 million to the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.  The gift was made after a legal battle erupted over the use of chicken litter as fertilizer in the Illinois River watershed.

"They have left a big nutrient footprint in the watershed, and that $1.1 million really doesn't do it justice," said Kurt Robinson with Save the Illinois River.

The money has been used for various environmental projects which the OSRC says have benefitted the river.  Still, officials say the decision to accept the money was a difficult one.

"It's been a benefit, but it's also been a conflict with the way folks view the agency and our work," said OSRC's Ed Fite.

And, while the two sides struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday, both admitted to having the ongoing lawsuit on the back of their minds.

"We're the first to acknowledge the 500 pound gorilla in the room," said OSRC's Ed Fite.

"No laws have been broken. There have been no state regulatory complaints against the poultry industry.  We have the support of every agricultural agency in the state of Oklahoma," said Jackie Cunningham with the Poultry Community Council.

When the gift was first announced, Attorney General Drew Edmondson cautioned the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission against accepting it.