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Deal gives public a say in feedlot operations.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

People concerned about water pollution from large-scale animal feeding operations now will have a voice in the permit process because of a lawsuit settled this month between environmentalists and the state.

The settlement requires the Oregon Department of Agriculture to make applications for new large-scale feedlots available for public review. If 10 or more people request it, the state also must hold a public informational hearing.

The new public notification requirement applies only to the largest of the so-called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. That includes farms with at least 700 mature dairy cows; 1,000 cattle such as heifers, steers, bulls, cow-calf pairs or veal calves; 2,500 swine; 500 horses; 10,000 sheep or lambs; 55,000 turkeys; or 125,000 chickens, depending on the manure-handling system.

The state also regulates smaller farms, which must have permits governing how they manage animal waste. But smaller farms will continue to be able to obtain permits without public comment.

Operators with current permits who submit new waste management plans won't be subjected to public review, said Debbie Gorham, who oversees the Natural Resources Division of the Department of Agriculture.

The settlement comes as states nationwide grapple with the effects of large-scale animal feedlots. The hog farm industry in particular has drawn widespread criticism for its massive waste volumes, its noxious runoff and its odors.

In Lane County, there are 14 farms with concentrated animal feeding operation permits, ranging in size from small to large. Three are considered large under federal rules.

These three - Lochmead Dairy in Junction City, Konyn Dairy on Coburg Road outside Eugene and Gamble Farms, a Junction City chicken farm - all have approved animal waste management plans, as required by 2003 federal regulations.

Of the other Lane County CAFO-permitted farms, eight have not yet developed animal waste management plans. Last year's federal regulations require medium-sized operations to have waste management plans in place by October 2005, and small ones to have plans by July 2006.

Potential for pollution

Environmentalists filed the suit that led to the public-review settlement because of concerns about the potential for pollution generated by big feedlots.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a cow produces about 120 pounds of manure a day - about the same amount of waste generated by 20 to 40 people. A dairy with 700 cows generates 84,000 pounds of manure daily.

Dairies, chicken farms and other large operations have storage systems such as lagoons or holding tanks to handle the waste. They apply it as fertilizer on fields or sell it to firms such as Lane Forest Products or Rexius that create compost for gardeners.

But manure is also a significant source of water pollution, said Charlie Tebbutt, an attorney with the Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center, which filed the suit on behalf of the Oregon Natural Resource Council, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the Oregon Toxics Alliance and the Columbia Riverkeepers.

"The regulations that existed prior to this new rule left huge gaps in the regulatory scheme," Tebbutt said.

Along with the public review, the settlement also requires operators whose waste illegally discharges into state waters twice within two years to conduct in-stream water-quality monitoring to assess the impact.

During the last fiscal year, October 2003 to September 2004, Oregon had 600 permitted concentrated animal feeding operations. During that time, the state found that 172 of the farms failed to comply with the animal waste rules of their permits, 65 of the notices of noncompliance were serious enough to require correction plans that would take longer than 30 days to fix. And three farms - none in Lane County - faced fines for polluting Oregon waters.

Increased oversight

Gorham said the state has increased its oversight in the past few years. In 2003, the Legislature directed the state to make sure farmers complied with the new federal regulations on CAFOs.

Five years ago, Oregon agriculture officials conducted on-site inspections at dairies and farms only every five years, she said. Now, they visit each year, and farms must submit an annual report.

The increased visits led to a jump in the number of noncompliance notices, Gorham said, but that has stabilized and dropped in recent years, she said.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Oregon Department of Agriculture also must clarify its rules on discharges of waste on water-saturated or frozen ground, activities that were prohibited under the old rules, but with definitions so vague they were unenforceable, Tebbutt said.

"The new set of rules sets out a clear framework for compliance," he said.

The scope of water pollution caused by animal waste from the state's feedlots is unclear, said Ranei Nomura, a spokeswoman at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Analysis of water pollution in the Willamette Basin, which includes all of the waters feeding into the Willamette River, indicate that high bacteria levels can be at least partially attributed to runoff from agricultural operations, she said.

Animal waste can include pathogens such as the E. coli bacteria, giardia, cryptosporidium, and salmonella.

Headquartered in Eugene, the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center also represents environmental groups in other states, and this month filed a notice of intent to sue five large dairies in New Mexico, Tebbutt said.

Environmental groups there have charged the New Mexico dairies with illegally discharging animal wastes into the Pecos and Brazos rivers.


Feedlots issued permits by the state as concentrated animal feeding operations, with location and permitted animal volume

High Pass Ranch, Junction City: 70,000 chickens

Featherland Farms, Coburg: 80,000 hens

Johnson Ranch, Junction City: 25 beef cattle, 500 ewes

Eugene Livestock Auction, Junction City: 900 animals, including cows, goats, horses

Gamble Farms, Junction City: 130,000 chickens

Chicken Ranch, Creswell: 105,000 chickens

Nicholas Sumich, Blachly: 75 dairy cows

Kjelde Dairy, Cottage Grove: 350 dairy cows, 150 heifers

Keystone Ranch, Blachly: 155 dairy cows, 74 heifers

Chuck and Phyllis Lehman Dairy, Crow: 600 cows, 150 heifers

Henderson's Poultry, Veneta: 65,000 chickens

Harrolds Dairy, Creswell: 310 dairy cows; 180 heifers

Lochmead Dairy, Junction City: 1,800 cows and other animals

Konyn Dairy, Eugene: 1,800 dairy cows, 200 heifers
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Title Annotation:Courts; A lawsuit filed by environmentalists and settled this month requires the state to make applications available for review
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 27, 2004
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