Tulsa utility authority approves water pollution lawsuit settlement

Wednesday, March 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Tulsa utility regulators have approved in principle a settlement the city reached with six Arkansas poultry companies and one town it accuses of polluting its drinking water.

The Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority's 7-0 vote Wednesday brings one step closer to completion the settlement that was reached Monday between Tulsa, the city of Decatur, Ark., and the poultry firms.

Decatur Mayor Bill Montgomery must yet agree to the settlement before it can be forwarded to U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan for final approval, Tulsa city attorney Martha Rupp-Carter said.

Montgomery said Tuesday that the Decatur City Council has given him authority to approve or reject an agreement and he was satisfied with the settlement as it had been described to him.

Tulsa, Decatur, Tyson Foods Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., Cargill Inc. and George's Inc. were still working on details of the agreement's terms, Rupp-Carter said.

Eagan told all sides not to disclose the terms until after the utility authority and Decatur officials could review the deal.

Montgomery said the deal requires Decatur to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant, and U.S. Magistrate Sam Joyner said the settlement includes ``remedial aspects.''

Tulsa and the utility blamed the handling of poultry waste by farms serving the six poultry companies for a foul taste and odor in the drinking water of several hundred thousand northeast Oklahomans.

The lawsuit filed in December 2001 alleged the poultry companies were responsible for 170 million pounds of nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich poultry waste each year in the watershed.

Excess phosphorous has led to explosive algae growth in the reservoirs, triggering the taste and odor problems.

The city sought the reimbursement of $4 million it has spent since 1997 investigating and treating the problems. It also sought punitive damages and the court-ordered cleanup of all soils, streams and lakes in the watershed.

Decatur is accused of contributing to the phosphorous load in its treatment of waste water from a Peterson processing plant.

Montgomery said the city has long planned to upgrade its plant, but the project was put on hold when the city was sued.

The settlement came after repeated negotiations since the lawsuit was filed, including four recent, daylong meetings, Joyner said. The jury was already assembled in the courtroom Monday when Eagan announced the settlement.