Water Alliance leader to join property owners in suit against Tyson Foods

Tuesday, November 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Property owners who accuse Tyson Foods of polluting Grand Lake will be getting legal help from 10 national law firms, including that of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., lawyers said Monday.

``It's going to mean they can't outspend us,'' said attorney Chuck Shipley, whose Tulsa firm represents the Grand Lake property owners in the class action lawsuit.

The Mayes County lawsuit alleges the Springdale, Ark., company has discharged millions of gallons of wastewater from its processing plant near Noel, Mo., directly into the Elk River, which flows from Missouri across the border into Oklahoma and Grand Lake.

It also seeks to hold Tyson liable for waste suspected of leaching into the lake after being used as fertilizer by farmers who contract with Tyson to grow chickens.

The homeowners say the pollution has brought foul odors, poultry remains, oil slicks and scum to the once-pristine shoreline

Kennedy heads the Waterkeeper Alliance, a White Plains, N.Y., environmental group that specializes in the protection and restoration of waterways.

Shipley said Kennedy's firm and nine others from around the country will enter their appearances in the case on Tuesday.

Tyson will be represented by Conner & Winters, with the law firm of Sen. President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, serving as local counsel.

Taylor said his firm was hired because it regularly represents outside parties in Mayes County. He saw no conflict with his position in the Legislature, although the issue of poultry waste has come before lawmakers in the past.

``I've always tried to segregate my legal practice from my Senate duties in the same way newspapers segregate advertising from editorials,'' he said.

Taylor said he could not comment on the allegations against Tyson, referring questions to Conner & Winters.

Earlier this year, another Arkansas-based poultry producer, Simmons Foods Inc., settled a $10 million lawsuit filed by a group of northeast Oklahomans who accused the company of contaminating groundwater in the area.

Shipley said it took about $200,000 in expenses to win that settlement. He expects Tyson ``will probably make us spend two or three times that, which is beyond the ability that I have to fund it.''

Bringing in the legal heavy hitters also means more depth in legal research, he said.