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Local Farmer Groups Sue to Challenge Mega-Chicken Operation Permit

"My farm has been in my family for five generations, and now it is threatened by an industrial mega-chicken operation next door,"

October 04, 2022
Center for Food Safety

Linn County, Oregon—Today several Oregon-based farmer groups filed a state court challenge to the Oregon Department of Agriculture's (ODA) water quality permit granted to J-S Ranch, a mega-chicken production facility. The farmer groups suing include Farmers Against Foster Farms, Friends of Family Farmers, Willamette Riverkeeper, and farmer Christina Eastman.

"My farm has been in my family for five generations, and now it is threatened by an industrial mega-chicken operation next door," said Christina Eastman, member of Farmers Against Foster Farms and individual plaintiff in the case. The ODA, Eastman said, "assures us that everything will be fine, but you can't contain the uncontainable—like the noxious fumes and ammonia particles blowing out of a dozen buildings and threatening our beloved North Santiam River and our groundwater. I cannot stand by and wait for disaster to strike."

J-S Ranch is a proposed mega-chicken operation capable of raising nearly 3.5 million broiler chickens per year in the sensitive area of the Wiseman Island reach in the North Santiam River. The area is home to numerous wildlife species, including some endangered salmonids, and provides water and recreation to many in the area.

J-S Ranch will collect, store, and export massive quantities of livestock waste—approximately 4,500 tons of chicken litter a year—while blowing ammonia from the chicken litter out of its barns located just a quarter of a mile from the river. Over the strenuous objections of community members around the proposed facility, ODA granted a ten-year general groundwater quality permit with only a few additional conditions. While ODA claims this facility will cause no pollution to ground or surface waters such as the North Santiam River, the plaintiffs and other community members are seriously concerned given the high levels of precipitation, proximity of the river, and huge quantities of chicken waste.

"We are gravely concerned that this mega-chicken operation will contaminate the federally-protected North Santiam River, a precious resource that provides habitat for threatened species, including Spring Chinook Salmon and Winter Steelhead, and serves as a water source for the community," said Lindsey Hutchison, staff attorney at Willamette Riverkeeper. "ODA's refusal to acknowledge the high likelihood of this facility polluting the North Santiam River is unacceptable and in violation of both state and federal laws."

The lawsuit alleges that the ODA permit violates state and federal statutes and regulations, including clean water protections for community and wildlife uses. The current permit covers only discharges into state groundwaters, despite plaintiffs repeatedly urging state agencies to consider the likely discharge of ammonia into the North Santiam River. Plaintiffs also allege that it is highly unlikely that J-S Ranch will be able to prevent discharges of litter, compost, or processing wastewater into groundwater based on the climate, weather, and topography of the area. The plaintiffs seek to protect the water quality of the Willamette River Basin and the rural communities and wildlife that depend on that water.

"At the urging of the farmers we represent, we are fighting back against J-S Ranch because it threatens our ecosystems and water quality for downstream users, including many other farmers," said Alice Morrison, organizational director of Friends of Family Farmers. "We don't want to see Linn County become another Morrow County, where an emergency was recently declared over groundwater contamination from large CAFOs like J-S Ranch," she added. "ODA ignored the pleas of farmers and others in the community who depend on the land and water resources that once damaged would take years to restore."

Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety, said, "ODA is failing family farmers and putting corporate profits ahead of community and environmental health. This mega-chicken operation—ultimately controlled by a venture capital firm—is the largest in the state and will generate huge amounts of waste, including ammonia blasted into the air right next to the North Santiam River. ODA unlawfully dismissed that pollution of that River and the groundwater under J-S Ranch's unlined barns."

The plaintiffs are represented by the nonprofit Center for Food Safety and a local firm, Sugerman Dahab.

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