Battery cages like these await MoArk, LLC's chickens.
The deadline is drawing nigh for Doyle Childers, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, to make an official announcement regarding issuance of the operating permit for chicken CAFO, MoArk, LLC.
MoArk patiently waiting for their operating permit before accepting delivery of birds is a new concept, said Mark Adams, chief spokesperson for SWMCALME, calling attention to the company's past disregard for operating within the law.
Those opposed to MoArk's expansion repeatedly have cited problems with water contamination as well as with odor. They consider the addition of millions of birds numbers that are inconceivable and unaccountable. In spite of this, Childers in an interview recently on television maintained that odor not the issue of water was the biggest complaint.
On October 7, 2005, during the final meeting held in Neosho in which Childers met with expansion opponents the issue of water dominated the discussion. Because the Elk River and its tributaries are endangered, opponents to expansion unanimously agreed that MDNR officials must acknowledge the need to move the increased amount of poultry litter to areas outside of the watershed.
Dealing with Oklahoma officials
When Adams asked Childers if he had answered a letter written to his department by Miles Tolbert, Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment who was concerned about how MoArk's expansion would impair Oklahoma waterways, Childers replied that it had not.
What Childers didn't mention was that the letter stimulated discussion within the MDNR about permit language. Where the proposed permit specifically mentioned trucking of litter to areas in Oklahoma and Kansas, Ed Galbraith, director of the water protection program, documented in an email his suggestion for a revision that would not mention Oklahoma or Kansas in any way.
In addition, according to an email written by Bruce Martin, Southwest Regional Director MDNR, a meeting on August 31, 2005, organized by Harry Bozoian of the Missouri attorney general's office brought together a person named "Dan," Martin himself, other MDNR officials and Oklahoma officials to discuss a letter that Martin says was written by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson regarding the proposed MoArk permit. Oklahoma's primary issue, according to Martin, was to "question Missouri's authority (or potential decision) to issue a new or expanded operating permit in an impaired watershed." Martin further states that his agency needs "to be responsive in some fashion to hopefully avoid the litigation similar to the Arkansas/Oklahoma water quality issues."
In spite of a settlement reached by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment with the U.S. EPA to force Missouri to overhaul its water quality standards, citizens think that Missouri doesn't seem to have motivation, other than to avoid litigation, to make sure that its streams aren't further harmed.
Two years ago Class 1A CAFOs were prohibited in 10 CSR 20-6 by the Missouri Clean Water Division from the watersheds of the Current, Jacks Fork and Eleven Point Rivers. Audience members were united in their belief that the Elk River and surrounding watershed should be added to this impaired list.
MDNR official touts Barton County for MoArk expansion
In focusing on water issues, George Parsons, southwest regional MDNR official, in a memo January 28 2005 to Scott Totten, soil and water division director, suggested that MoArk locate its expanded facility north of Newton County. "Barton County and counties farther north have soils that are far more suitable for land application [and] are out of those impaired watersheds...These rural areas are where we should locate agr. industries such as this," Parsons wrote concerned that his suggestion would meet with a reaction similar to that of Kansas and Oklahoma, areas that thwarted MoArk's efforts.
Parsons admits to having checked out sites in Barton County "on his down time." He had received support for his efforts by Jeff Staake, MDNR deputy director, who on January 14, 2005 wrote that he'd been working with then Gov. Bob Holden and others "to help keep this expansion [MoArk] in Mo vs going elsewhere."
Taxpayer money is available to subsidize litter hauling costs
We've given them [MoArk] lots of incentives to move litter to other less critical watersheds," Parsons comments to Sharon Clifford, MDNR water pollution control program. And she replies how public funding could be used--grants from the EPA or low interest loans to actually move the litter. And MoArk or an independent hauler (Dan Goostree is mentioned) would be able to use public funding to buy the equipment for the manure's hauling.
"If they [MoArk] spread in the Elk R the manure has to be processed to where it meets EPAs 503 regs," Parsons writes. "If they haul the manure north of Spring R. and market it there, then almost all restrictions are off. How about that for incentives."
Another idea of Parsons, according to an email, was to establish truckwashes that will clean and disinfect grain trucks after they have hauled litter back north so that they could load grain and haul corn back down to the poultry feed mills. All the haulers would need is a receipt that they had disinfected their trucks before hauling the grain, Parsons writes.
"There could still be undesirable activities associated with this but all anyone can do is set out SOPs and hope that a majority follow them,"Parsons had suggested in an email dated October 28, 2004. This procedure allowing litter to contaminate feed to infect chickens or people may have been discarded, as it did not seem to be mentioned further.
Childers seeks proof that MoArk "modernization" will work
It seems that on January 14th Dan Hudgens and Hugh Vogel, MoArk top brass, in their visit with Parsons already had made a company decision to locate on what Parsons calls the "Neosho Crowder site (7 farms)". In that same memo to MDNR officials Parsons describes Hudgens' suggestion that he, Vogel, and 4 or 5 MDNR officials (including himself, Randy Kixmiller, Tony Dohmen and someone from SWRO) take a "Kinbg Air flight out of Springfield" to visit MoArk's Roggen, CO facility. According to Parsons, Hudgens is hoping, that what might be considered by many as an intimate little junket, will help speed up the review of the construction permit along with having the DNR "comfortable with what they are planning for upgrading here in MO."
Childers since has admitted that using the "modern" Roggen facility as a point of comparison to that of Neosho lacks merit because of incompatibility issues such as soil permeability and humidity levels found in Southwest Missouri. This has led Childers to form a group to visit Fremont Farms, another company using the same new technology that Moark is building at its Neosho facility, perhaps, to prove that the "modern" drying of litter will lessen odor. However, he is faced with allegations, made by Lee Van Otterloo and others who previously visited Fremont Farm's Iowa CAFO, that Fremont Farms had to buy out nearby property owners because odor problems jeopardized their health, that Fremont Farms managers said they didn't understand why the company would propose such an expansion in a developed area like Neosho, and that a realtor told them that property values had decreased considerably since the CAFO was established nearby.
According to Neosho resident Dave Boyt, Shelly Paulson of Fifth Avenue Iowa Realty in Grinnell was very helpful and willing to take time to talk about the effects of the Freemont facility:
She cited fly and odor problems, as well as its effect on real estate prices in the area. The affected area was in a 5 mile radius from the facility. She said that the facility 'has definitely brought down property values', and cited one home that she was involved in selling. The owner bought it for $205,000 before Fremont Farms came in, and sold it for $184,000 after the facility was operational.
A chicken farmer who should be opposed to CAFOs destroying family farm operations, Childers was appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt co-existent with the governor's term. Following Blunt Administration policy, Childers is prevented from making a decision solely based upon environmental and health factors but as MDNR division officials agree "in a manner consistent with the Blunt's administration position of balancing the environment and business issues". However, there seems to be some concern within the division of the MDNR that everyone speak with a "united voice".
Ombudsmen vs. direct contact
That this voice has some honest edges is interesting to note. Dave Woolery, one of Blunt's newly appointed ombudsmen for the southwest Missouri region, wrote an email to Scott Totten on September 30, 2005. In it he outlined the complaints he heard during interviews in Neosho, but he revealed that issuing the permit with conditions seemed to him to be the "most reasonable suggestion." Woolery also wrote that if "MoArk could possibly find a way to voluntary (sic) limit the numbers, it would be a good faith effort." But he concluded, "Certainly, economics and the investment may preclude this."
Woolery concluded with: "In summary, I'm not sure our impact was significant. I did not sense that we were perceived as going the extra mile;...and we may have consolidated and amplified the strong feelings against MoArk."
In an email dated September 26, 2005 Connie Patterson, MDNR communications director, wrote Woolery that reporters in southwest Missouri interested in environmental issues would contact him as an ombudsman "fairly regularly." Woolery apparently had expressed a reluctance to participate in media training, perhaps, because he honestly believed that his role did nothing to stem the growing disgust for the agency for which he appeared by many to be a smokescreen. And no reporter worth his or her salt would not go right to the source for information.
Unfortunately, even with the Open Records Law, using direct source material is limited. While the Joplin Independent was privy to documents showing department officials bantering back and forth mentioning meetings between them and MoArk officials like Jerry Wells, no material allegedly was available that documented what was discussed.