The group opposed to the MOARK egg production facility expansion were given 30 minutes by the Neosho city council to present their position. Spearheaded by Dr. Richard Betz, the speakers were attempting to convince the council that it would be city business to say no more to additional chickens--to oppose any expansion within a half mile of the city limits or within three miles of Crowder College. But it seems that the council, headed by Mayor Howard Birdsong, has other ideas.
Betz said that the eventual possibility is that 4 1/2 million chickens could be housed in MOARK's facility located just 1 1/2 miles from Crowder College.
"MOARK's figures keep changing," said Betz, "but it's a number we cannot conceive." In terms of producing excrement, Betz compared it to having 150,000 beef steers in the same area.
So far, 1700 citizens have signed a petition calling to dismiss the expansion project. In trying to convince the council that it was a city issue, Betz said that he canvassed two blocks within the heart of the city. Two refused to sign out of 60; one worked for MOARK, he said.
When Wes Nall asked the council why this issue wasn't put on the regular agenda, the mayor replied that the "city has no control over this." "It's a DNR [Department of Natural Resources] matter" referring to the DNR's tentative approval of MOARK's request April 29, 2005, for a water discharge permit.
What the mayor forgot to mention was that three council members could put the request up for consideration. "I'll let you know right up front I'm opposed to it," Birdsong added.
Pictured is a portion of the duplicated map Dr. Richard Betz obtained from the Newton County assessor's office showing the layout of the MOARK operation bordered by Mallard, Mink and D Highway. The diagonal red lines in the "J" figure represent alteration of the Neosho city limits. The yellow areas represent hen houses.
This issue wasn't the only one that the mayor "forgot to mention." Not recalling that the city limits were altered to allow MOARK access to the city's wastewater system was called "an error" on his part. Betz was able to produce a map he obtained from the county assessor's office that showed how the city boundaries were extended in a "J-shaped" formation to allow the access. However, Betz was not able to show how or when this adjustment was made or the legality of the move.
Robert Carter presented the council with the resolution made by the governing body of Galena, KS in opposition to MOARK's expansion in nearby Riverton. "They were concerned about the welfare of its citizens," Carter told the council, reminding them that MOARK's proposal was for exactly the same number of birds proposed for D Highway, MOARK's Neosho location. "This is a City of Neosho issue as it was an issue for the City of Galena," Carter added.
On the subject of MOARK's intention to dig two deep wells without control to satisfy their expansion needs, Mark Adams attempted to explain how the magnitude of what MOARK is planning will drop the imperiled water table even further. "It is city business," Adams stressed. "The Ozark aquifer is city business!"
"I would not begin to understand what you are talking about regulating the water table," Birdsong told Adams and consequently the assembled group of citizens already frustrated over the council's lack of concern. Apparently, the mayor did not read an article appearing in the Joplin Globe ("Water Crisis Ahead? - 4/21/05). A segment of the article mentioned how the Neosho Basin Adisory Committee met in Baxter Springs, KS to talk about the Ozark aquifer and the need for regulatory cooperation amongst the states. Because of a serious shortage of water, the State of Kansas has put a 5 year water moratorium on deep well drilling, attesting to the serious nature of the water shortage that affects the aquifer in the several states it serves.
Two unaffiliated residents voiced their opinions last. Nancy Roberts, a 2 1/2 year resident of Neosho, took the podium. Her emotional voice betrayed her anger. She explained that she had left an area where chickens were "stinking up the town." She also mentioned how the local wells became contaminated from manure from the chicken houses. A gentleman in the audience confirmed how a concentration of chickens could be a health issue. He said he had incurred $80,000 in hospital bills curing a case of hystoplasmosis, a condition caused by inhaling bird or fowl droppings into his lungs.
Neosho Mayor Howard Birdsong, pictured left, chats with two members of the 7-member city council. They are from L-R, Jim Cole and Steven Hays. Not pictured are Jeff Werneke, Matt Persinger, Sherry McCormack and Jim Smallwood. During the council meeting Tuesday, May 17, 2005 Mayor Birdsong did most of the talking.
Birdsong said he had met with MOARK officials, he admitted he was "not an engineer" but that he eats chicken, and that was "the extent of his knowledge". He then brought up how he had contacted a county commissioner by phone from Roggins, Colorado. The official there, he said, assured him that MOARK's CAFO operation in his community using a dried manure technique has no odor. Birdsong also was convinced that Roggins was in "one of the fastest growing counties in Colorado" and that there was "development around the chicken house." Although it appeared to be the opposite case, he also said that he did not "suggest what is good for Colorado is good for Neosho."
Betz on the other hand referred to photos taken by Lee Van Otterloo when he visited Roggins, a town whose chamber of commerce, if it has one, does not advertise itself on the Internet, and returned with photographs that he took while there. "The MOARK operation is bordered on one side by a cattle feed lot and on the other by an oil refinery," Betz said. "The odors are so strong you couldn't tell where they're coming from."