Seaboard Farms backs off plan for Oklahoma hog farm

Tuesday, December 21st 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A proposal by Seaboard Farms to pump Kansas groundwater into the Oklahoma Panhandle for a proposed hog farm has been abandoned. The idea had been widely criticized.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board had rejected Seaboard's application to use groundwater for a proposed 27,000-sow confined feeding facility in Oklahoma because the facility was too close to a church. Oklahoma law prohibits a water permit for a hog farm if the farm is within three miles of a recreational activity conducted by a nonprofit group. The 20-member Bethel Church of God qualified because it held picnics and other recreational events outdoors.

After that rejection earlier this year, Alva Stegman of Hooker, Okla., purchased land in Kansas, near Liberal. Stegman, a Seaboard employee, applied for a Kansas water permit that would allow him to pipe up to 800 gallons of groundwater a minute -- nearly 200 million gallons per year -- several miles to the hog facility in Oklahoma. Oklahoma officials said the application for a water permit in Kansas was an attempt to circumvent their law.

In Kansas, Gov. Bill Graves, House Speaker Robin Jennison, R-Healy, and other state lawmakers criticized Seaboard over the water rights application, saying the company was sowing distrust in western Kansas. Jennison praised the company for backing off the water application in Kansas.

In Seaboard's news release, Jennison is quoted as saying, "This recognition of Kansans' concerns is a good example of their willingness to work together in order to continue the much needed development of the agriculture economy." Despite Seaboard's announcement, the water rights application is still pending in the Kansas Department of Agriculture, according to department spokesman John Garlinger.

Last month, the department wrote Stegman, saying it needed more information on the permit, including whether he had permission from other landowners to stretch pipe across their land, and whether he had conducted a water quality analysis to determine the effect of pumping so much water from the underground water supply, Garlinger said.

Garlinger said the department had not heard back from Stegman, who could not be reached for comment. Seaboard could still get groundwater in Oklahoma for its hog farm. It has appealed the rejection of its Oklahoma permit by the state's water board to a state district court in Oklahoma.