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Farmers, Community Members Challenge ODA Approval of Foster Farms Mega-Chicken CAFO in Willamette Valley, Citing Risks to Clean Water, Fish Habitat

June 10, 2022
Center for Food Safety

WILLAMETTE VALLEY, Ore.—Yesterday, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and a coalition of farmers, ranchers, local stakeholders and public interest groups filed a petition for reconsideration with the state, urging the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to revoke or update requirements for the J-S Ranch mega-chicken CAFO proposed in Oregon's Willamette Valley. J-S Ranch is a grower for Foster Farms; Foster Farms was recently acquired by the international conglomerate Atlas Holdings.

The planned facility poses a serious pollution risk to ground and surface waters, endangering fish habitats and the Willamette River basin ecosystem, especially the North Santiam River—the clean water source needed for both sensitive wildlife and people for drinking and recreation.

"3.5 million Foster Farms chickens will threaten our waterways, foul our wells, and harm existing farms and ranches in our agriculture community," said Kendra Kimbirauskas, Scio Farmer and one of the organizers of Farmers Against Foster Farms. "The permit ODA issued does not adequately protect our water and wells from the inevitable pollution from this mega poultry operation. Instead, ODA must protect our community, farms, and water from this incursion of massive Foster Farms chicken operations."

Last month, overlooking objections from neighbors, farmers, and river users alike, the state issued its approval for J-S Ranch to operate a 3.5 million broiler chicken CAFO near Scio, Oregon, right next to the North Santiam River. The approval is issued under the state groundwater permit and does not address any pollution from the chicken waste production to surface waters, namely the river that is only a quarter mile away. While the permit approval is conditional on J-S Ranch acquiring several additional necessary permits (a construction stormwater permit and a road access permit), the state has not issued a federal Clean Water Act permit to ensure that discharges of ammonia to the river are managed.

"ODA and DEQ cannot ignore this mega-chicken operation's likely pollution of the North Santiam River, a federally protected waterway," said Amy van Saun, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety. "Rather than deal with the inevitable ground and surface water pollution, ODA once again sticks its head in the sand and pretends that this will be a 'zero discharge' permit. Without the necessary protections and monitoring, this legal fiction will harm the people and wildlife that rely on this special stretch of river and high-value farmland."

ODA claims there will be no discharge of pollution to groundwater or surface water, but the agency has not required the operation to take enough measures to ensure that groundwater is protected and completely ignores the ammonia that will come from the chicken barn fans and deposit in the North Santiam River. The facility can grow 580,000 chickens at a time, which could mean ammonia emissions of 850-1,190 pounds of ammonia per day.

The stretch of the North Santiam at issue is a special and nearly pristine area, which provides crucial habitat to numerous sensitive species, including federally listed Chinook salmon and steelhead. The site is wholly inappropriate for a mega-chicken facility: It is wet and gets lots of rain, and the banks of the river are dynamic. The North Santiam River also provides drinking water and recreation to the local communities. 

"DEQ and ODA need to take a second look at J-S Ranch and the harm that this CAFO operation could cause to people, wildlife, and our waterways," said Lindsey Hutchison, staff attorney for Willamette Riverkeeper. "To place this operation on a floodplain and so close to a nearly pristine waterway will risk public health, crucial fish and other wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities."

If ODA and DEQ do not grant the petition, the local farmers and stakeholders will have to consider additional legal options to protect their community and ecosystem. The petitioners include CFS, Farmers Against Foster Farms, Willamette Riverkeeper, Friends of Family Farmers, Humane Voters Oregon, Food & Water Watch, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Center for Biological Diversity.


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