Farmers Against Foster Farms was formed to oppose new chicken plants around Scio. (Farmers Against Foster Farms)
Opponents are asking Oregon state officials to rescind a permit that allows an industrial chicken plant in Scio southeast of Salem.
Last month, the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a permit for an operation to raise 3.4 million chickens a year.
Eight nonprofits, including Farmers against Foster Farms, a group of local opponents, said in a petition that allowing J-S Ranch to operate a large chicken plant in the area would cause “irreparable injury” to the community.
“Petitioners have thousands of members in Oregon who are concerned about J-S Ranch’s potential to harm water quality if the agencies do not reconsider the order and instead allow the facility to begin feeding and storing and disposing of the waste generated by 3.5 million chickens a year,” the petition says.
The petition was submitted to the Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Environmental Quality on Thursday, June 9.
Opponents say rejection of the permit is crucial following the recent sale of Foster Farms to an equity firm and the potential of that to lead to an expansion of industrial chicken ranches in the Northwest.
The petition asked the state to revoke the agricultural permit for J-S Ranch or require stepped-up pollution monitoring. The department’s permit allows owner Eric Simon to raise more than 3.4 million chickens a year for Foster Farms. The plant will produce 4,500 tons of waste, which Simon plans to sell as a soil enrichment.
On Friday, he obtained a DEQ stormwater construction permit to build 11 barns 60 feet wide and about 650 feet long on his 60-acre property. He also needs a Linn County road access permit for the truck traffic, with vehicles bringing in chicks and taking chickens to Foster Farms’ slaughterhouse in Kelso, Washington.
“We’re ready to go but the weather’s not cooperating with us,” Simon said.
Simon said the petition is part of a strategy by opponents to put him out of business. They have protested the plant since Simon applied for his Agriculture Departmentpermit in 2020.
“They told me from the get-go that their goal is to bankrupt me,” Simon said. “They’re trying to make an example of us” to deter similar projects.
Another ranch owner, who wants to build 16 barns in the Jordan area to raise 4.5 million birds a year for Foster Farms, awaits a decision on its CAFO application. A third facility is planned for the Aumsville area.
The Agriculture Department said it is reviewing the petition. DEQ has not reviewed it yet, said Dylan Darling, DEQ’s spokesperson. They have 30 days to respond to a request for a stay by opponents and 60 days to respond to the petition.
The petition argues that Simon’s operation is likely to pollute the North Santiam River, a quarter of a mile away. The chickens are expected to produce large amounts of ammonia that will be exhausted out of the facility, said Amy van Saun, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety in Washington D.C. She said airborne ammonia can travel up to six miles and would likely pollute the river and harm the fish.
“ODA basically put its head into the sand,” van Saun said.
“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, and is enjoyed by petitioners’ members,” the petition states. It says the plant also will likely pollute the groundwater in an area where residents rely on wells for drinking water.
Simon refuted that, saying that chicken waste is dry.
Permit comes with conditions
The CAFO permit has some caveats. Simon has to show there is no transmission of waste from the barn floors, and he must install groundwater monitoring wells to test the water. Opponents said that’s not enough.
The petition argues that the plant should be required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit which includes more rigorous standards than the requirements he faces now, van Saun said.
“(That permit) would acknowledge that there is going to be some discharge to the surface waters and then it can control that discharge,” van Saun said. “More monitoring would be required.”
Simon is confident the state will reject the petition. He hopes to start “moving dirt” this summer.
Opponents fear the plant would undermine the liveability of the area, while the ranch’s supporters say it will feed tens of thousands of people a year.
“This ranch, which will feed 140,000 people each year, meets all the water quality and air quality requirements in Oregon,” the Northwest Chicken Council said in a statement. “This state-of-the-art facility will be one of the finest in Oregon and the Northwest.”
Opponents said thwarting J-S Ranch is especially crucial now following the sale of Foster Farms to Atlas Holdings, an equity firm in Connecticut.
Atlas Holdings and its affiliates own 25 companies in a variety of sectors, from automotive and construction to food manufacturing.
Opponents suspect it plans to add industrial chicken plants in the Northwest.
“Companies don’t acquire other companies to maintain the status quo,” said Kendra Kimbirauskas, a farmer in the Scio area who opposes J-S Ranch. “There is clearly an agenda to expand poultry production in the Willamette Valley.”
Simon said the sale also took him by surprise. He said his facility doesn’t mark an expansion due to the loss of Foster Farms facilities in the last 15 years.
“Many ranchers retired or sold the farm for other uses,” Simon said. “There has only been one new house built in that timeframe.”
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