SE Okahoma dairy operation under investigation

Friday, May 16th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

YUBA, Okla. (AP) _ A dairy where surprise inspectors found cow carcasses stacked above ground is under investigation by the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department.

Neighbors have been fighting the Alan Ritchey Dairy in southeastern Oklahoma for at least two years, and the farm has generated pages of complaints to the state agency.

Investigators did a surprise inspection of the 3,400-cow dairy April 3 and found the carcass disposal pit.

The pit did not adhere to a plan the dairy filed with the agriculture department that said carcasses would be buried in 15-foot-deep pits to reduce the risk of contaminating the waterways. Inspectors found carcasses and body fluids on top of the ground, the report states.

Nearly all burial pits had dead cows stacked above ground and uncovered.

Dan Parrish, director of water quality services for the agriculture department, wrote in a report that he discussed the disposal plan with a manager.

``Before I departed that day, he had four employees cleaning up the carcass disposal nightmare,'' Parrish wrote.

The farm's manager called Parrish the next day and received permission to dig another pit so carcasses could be disposed of properly.

Ritchey said the overflowing pit was a one-day incident.

``That's taken care of,'' he said. ``He's issued permits for us to dig a couple more pits. It wasn't that big a problem to begin with.''

The dairy employs about 80 people and is good for the Yuba community, Ritchey said.

``We have a good payroll,'' he said. ``I would think we're a pretty good asset to the community creating that many jobs over there.''

Neighbors have complained about flies and odors and became furious over the discovery in February 2001 of an open burial pit piled with as many as 300 dead black-and-white cows and calves.

``What bothers me the most is the continual abuses,'' said Marty Smith, whose family lives near the dairy farm. ``When you look at it from the outside it looks all pretty, when you get to looking close there are lots of problems.''

Ritchey said Smith has a ``lifelong ambition to give us hell.''

An April 7 letter from the agriculture department to Richard Stroup with Alan Ritchey Inc., the dairy's Texas-based parent company, states a number of concerns for the Ritchey Dairy license. The dairy has been operating on a pending state license since 1996.

The agriculture department is working with Attorney General Drew Edmondson's office on the case. Officials would not say whether the state plans to file a lawsuit against the dairy.