POTEAU – State Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, today said he is renewing his fight on behalf of Cameron residents against mega poultry farms that destroy property values and make life miserable for nearby residents.
“The small family poultry farmer has been an important part of the continued growth of LeFlore County for OK Foods, as well as supporting their own families and supplementing their farm income,” Kiger said.
In May 2018, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture held public hearings related to a moratorium that was placed on new poultry farms being developed until new set-back rules could be implemented. The problem is, some counties in Northeast Oklahoma have seen increased growth of large numbers of poultry barns being developed with no set-back rules in place to protect existing neighbors, towns, communities, schools, hospitals, streams, rivers and well water systems.
During the May 2018 hearings, Kiger provided testimony asking for at least 2,000 feet to be considered for set-back distances to help reduce the smell, noise and any possible pollution of fecal matter and feathers. Kiger said while he strongly supports growth in LeFlore County of the poultry industry by small family farmers, he does not want it to come at the expense of neighboring landowner rights and especially for the county’s existing small family farmers who have invested their lives in this industry.
“The practice for the past 25-years in LeFlore County has been a small family farm consisting of two to four poultry barns,” Kiger said. “But prior to 2018 and going forward, integrators are allowing poultry farms to be a minimum of eight large barns running up to 55 feet wide and 600 feet long, and if the land is titled right, there are plans for up to 24 houses being developed near Cameron.”
Kiger said this causes many problems that LeFlore County residents just aren't willing to accept, and he and others are ready to fight.
“With hundreds of small family owned farms in LeFlore County, these new mega farms will bankrupt many of our small family farmers who will be replaced, which will create a chain reaction causing bank defaults on farm loans, home loans, car loans and everything important to these farm families,” he said. “In addition to this, the new mega farms being built in Cameron are too close to housing additions and are reducing the values of properties and creating issues with odor.
“Now that we are entering the hot season of the year, I'm getting complaints from citizens in and near Cameron complaining of the terrible smell of chickens and fecal matter,” Kiger said. “Those I talked to living on the west and south side of Cameron said during the summer you can't even go outside on your back porch to sit with your family or have dinner.”
Kiger coordinated a Town Hall meeting earlier in the year that drew over 200 people to hear plans of OK Foods approving the development of approximately 77 of the large poultry barns in close proximity to residences. From that meeting, Cameron residents met with most town officials across the county who supported no large poultry farms being developed close to communities or neighborhoods. Over 2,000 signed petitions for OK Foods to stop this type of development.
Kiger said most people in LeFlore County support the small family farmer and understand their importance to economic development. But, in discussions with attorneys related to existing state laws, action cannot be taken against a poultry farm until it's operational and a nuisance exists and affects others living nearby.
Kiger said it is now evident that a nuisance exists as families in Cameron are outside more and having community and school activities, and reports of the smell due to southerly winds is creating havoc for those trying to live their lives.
“Right now my plans are to be in Cameron to continue talking to residents affected and letting them know they have a right to try and stop this from happening even after new barns are developed,” Kiger said. “Oklahoma law allows nuisance legal action with a minimum amount of $250,000. But if the nuisance causes damage to nearby landowners there is no cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded.”
Kiger said he and a group from Cameron tried to work with OK Food officials, and Kiger offered a plan for these new growers to develop these large mega barns on a large tract of land away from communities and county roads with all of the utilities required for poultry operations, but the plan gained no traction.
“Now that I'm getting complaints that OK Foods isn't interested in working with residents in and near Cameron, I will help coordinate actions on behalf of the people I serve against these large farm producers,” he said.
He noted that a community in Texas filed a lawsuit on a large poultry producer and won a judgement of $6 million.
Kiger said as growers are now developing 16 and 24 large barn facilities despite prior discussions he and Cameron residents have had with them, he is issuing a fresh warning of what is coming for them.
For anyone who has a complaint of odor, property value loss or fecal and/or feathers on their property they can contact Rep. Kiger by calling (918) 649-3142, his office at (405) 557-5413 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.