Oklahoma's Attorney General says he has spent $1-million on poultry lawsuit to date

Tuesday, August 23rd 2005, 11:06 am
By: News On 6

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (AP) -- Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says $1 million has already been spent on a state lawsuit aimed at reducing the amount of chicken litter that can leach into the Illinois River watershed.

Edmondson sued eight poultry companies this summer, claiming runoff in Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma farms pollutes the Illinois River with excess phosphorus, nitrogen and other hazardous substances.

He wants a judge to order damage in the watershed be repaired, and that costs of the litigation be paid by the defendants. Oklahoma is using private lawyers to pursue the court action. The Oklahoma AG's office didn't have the staff or the budget to pursue the lawsuits, so it enlisted outside firms that will be paid if a judge rules in favor of the state, Edmondson spokesman Charlie Price said Tuesday.

Poultry litter is a combination of bird manure and rice hulls or wood chips. Many farmers in the watershed spread the waste onto their land as fertilizer. Excess fertilizer can run off into streams, and Edmondson says pollution is harming the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma.

Representatives for poultry companies, farmers and some Arkansas officials have said Edmondson is only after money, not cleaning the environment.

"I think they're in a poor position today to say its about the money when they have had years to do the right thing," Edmondson said. "I'm not sure you can separate out the money from the environment. We're asking for money in order to do reclamation to try to correct the damage done by the poultry industry to the water."

Much of the $1 million spent includes money for expert witnesses, aerial photography, water and soil analysis and other costs, he said.

A previous lawsuit by the city of Tulsa, Okla., resulted in a settlement which included shipping large amounts of poultry litter out of the Eucha-Spavinaw watershed, which feeds reservoirs that provide Tulsa's drinking water.

Janet Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the poultry companies and employee of Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur, said mediations between the two sides broke down last week because Edmondson's demands took a back seat to water quality.

"Despite what some politicians keep saying in the media, we have offered to do more than a court could order. The simple fact is only a comprehensive, scientific approach that takes into account all sources of nutrients will provide a meaningful method to manage this issue in a way that actually helps improve water quality and is fair to everyone," Wilkerson said.

The defendants say treated water from wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks and commercial fertilizers are also potential sources of phosphorus in the watershed.

The five largest cities in Northwest Arkansas have already dropped their phosphorus levels to under one milligram per litter. The two states have also agreed to try to meet a goal of 0.037 milligrams of phosphorus in one liter of water in the river by 2012.