Chicken barn battle ends in Ottawa County

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A proposal to build football-sized chicken barns in Ottawa County was shelved Thursday after project backers failed to gain support from residents who opposed the plan.

Prosper Farms said it was selling three tracts of land where it planned to build as many as 90 barns around the Narcissa community just south of Miami.

Landowner Rocky Flick, who opposed it with members of a group called Citizens for Responsible Development in Ottawa County, said he would buy the property.

The initial project would have cost $17.1 million and produced about 2 million chickens every six weeks. Talk of a scaled-back plan failed to placate opponents.

Buddy Pilgrim, president of Prosper Farms, said the plan was called off because of the difficulty of winning community support after early misunderstandings and disagreements about the scope of the project.

``In light of recent events, and in the interest of being responsive to our neighbors, Prosper Farms feels it would be in the best interest of both parties for us not to build in Ottawa County,'' he said.

Opponents feared the barns would lower their land values and create odors.

``Although their original hope was to simply scale back the project, their decision to withdraw completely is testimony to their dedication to accommodate local residents,'' Flick said.

He said Prosper Farms had been honest about its plans throughout the process.

Throughout the region, residents were alarmed about possible runoff tainted with phosphorous from chicken litter spread out on the land as fertilizer.

Phosphorous, an active ingredient in fertilizer, spurs algae blooms that can sap water of oxygen, which leaves a foul-taste and can kill fish and aquatic life.

In three separate lawsuits, the city of Tulsa and two groups of other landowners are blaming chicken processors for high levels of phosphorous in regional water supplies.

Gov. Frank Keating signed an emergency order Tuesday halting construction of chicken farms within 300 feet of running water or within a 100-year flood plain. The rule was aimed at the Ottawa County proposal.

In December, the Ottawa County Rural Water District No. 2 voted to sell water to the project. But the board reversed itself earlier this month after pressure from residents.

Flick's agreement to purchase land helped Prosper Farms honor commitments to original landowners, Pilgrim said.

``It would have been very difficult for us to walk away from the project had Rocky Flick not arranged for the repurchase of the land,'' Pilgrim said.

The barns would have been the most environmentally advanced available, he said earlier. They would have replaced older barns elsewhere that fatten chickens for Simmons Foods of Siloam Springs, Ark.

Pilgrim is also chief executive of Simmons Foods. He took residents on a tour of similar barns, but residents were not dissuaded to drop their opposition.

Pilgrim said new Prosper Farm sites would not be grouped together on large tracts of land. Instead, individual farms would be separate from each other.