Mar 21, 2023 - Business

Arkansas poultry companies and Oklahoma get extension to agree

Illustration of a hand holding a gavel over water

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Northwest Arkansas poultry companies and the state of Oklahoma last Friday were granted another 90 days to strike an agreement in a lawsuit that dates back to 2005.

  • The suit alleges the companies are responsible for polluting water in the Illinois River Watershed, which runs into Oklahoma.

Driving the news: A document filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern Oklahoma says both the state and the poultry companies requested the extension.

The big picture: U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell ruled in favor of Oklahoma in January after letting the case cool for nearly 18 years.

  • His findings say the companies polluted the Illinois River, caused a public nuisance and trespassed by spreading chicken manure on land in eastern Oklahoma, which then leached into the river's watershed.
  • Frizell then gave Oklahoma and the poultry companies until March 17 to present a mutual agreement to remedy the impact on the watershed.

Details: The suit names Tyson Foods, Cobb-Vantress (a subsidiary of Tyson), Cal-Maine Foods, Cargill, George's, Simmons Foods and Peterson Farms, much of which has been sold since the lawsuit was filed.

Between the lines: Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond wants a court-appointed special master to ensure court orders are followed under the agreement once it's struck, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

What they're saying: "The poultry industry has made significant improvements over the years in its litter abatement process, and I am hopeful we can craft a plan that protects Oklahoma's natural resources without placing unreasonable burdens on the companies," Drummond said in a public statement last Friday.

  • A Tyson Foods spokesperson told Axios NWA via email on Monday: "We appreciate Judge Frizzell recognizing the progress the poultry companies have made with Attorney General Drummond by granting additional time to work towards a resolution of the lawsuit."

What's next: The state and the poultry companies must submit a joint status report by June 9; the next court session with both parties is scheduled June 16 in Tulsa.

Disclosure: Reporter Worth Sparkman formerly worked at Tyson Foods.


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