Poultry industry agrees to register farms, official says

Tuesday, July 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said an agreement between Oklahoma and the Arkansas poultry industry could come as soon as September.

Last spring, Edmondson said Oklahoma would not sue Arkansas poultry producers as long as negotiations over Oklahoma's new water-quality standards on phosphorus were productive.

Edmondson and Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment Brian Griffin were in Little Rock on Monday for talks with Arkansas and poultry industry officials about protecting Oklahoma's scenic rivers from poultry waste, a source of phosphorus.

``I think we made progress and am heartened by it,'' Edmondson said afterward, adding that the parties would meet again in September.

This year, Oklahoma set a limit of 0.037 milligrams of phosphorous per liter of water in six scenic waterways. Four of them start in Arkansas and flow into Oklahoma: the Illinois, Flint Creek, Lee Creek and the Upper Mountain Fork River.

Edmondson said Monday the limit was unlikely to change, but he hoped to have an understanding between the two states by the meeting this fall.

``The main issue, as far as we were concerned, is the responsibility for the safe disposal of the litter,'' Edmondson said. ``If any agreement is reached, we want it to be enforceable.''

Poultry litter, a combination of wood shavings, rice hulls and chicken or turkey manure, contains phosphorus. It is spread in poultry houses and used on pastures and hay fields as fertilizer. High levels of phosphorus can cause algae blooms, deplete oxygen and threaten aquatic life.

But Arkansas officials, including Gov. Mike Huckabee, have criticized the limits as unattainable and potentially damaging to northwest Arkansas' economy.

Representatives from Simmons Foods, Peterson Farms, George's Inc., Tyson Foods, OK Foods and Cargill attended Monday's meeting.

Also present were representatives from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Arkansas Municipal Wastewater Utilities, Huckabee's office, and the office of U.S. Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark.

The closed meeting was the second formal meeting between Arkansas and Oklahoma regarding phosphorous limits. It was first formal discussion to include representatives from the poultry industry.

Under a proposal that came out of the meeting, all poultry feeding operations would be required to register with the state of Arkansas, and some near selected watersheds would be required to develop plans for handling litter. Registration would give the state a clearer inventory of the number and location of the poultry farms, officials said.

The proposal also included certification of technicians who help develop the plans, said Randy Young, director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

``That way we would have some uniformity from state to state,'' he said.

Morril Harriman, a spokesman for the Poultry Federation, which represents poultry companies in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, said poultry farmers were committed to statewide registration.

``I think it's a good idea,'' said Harriman, who attended Monday's meeting. ``We certainly would agree and would not oppose statewide registration ... We would not oppose such a regulation.''

Marcus Devine, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, said that four northwest Arkansas cities _ Fayetteville, Springdale, Siloam Springs and Rogers _ also agreed to reduce the amount of phosphorous through their wastewater.

``These are significant changes,'' Devine said after the meeting. ``We let (Oklahoma) know that we are committed to reducing phosphorous in the river.''