News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

CAFO permit challenge headed to trial in 2024

A lawsuit challenging a state permit for a local industrial chicken farm is proceeding to trial after regulators attempted to have the case thrown out as meritless.

On Nov. 16, the court set Feb. 5, 2024, as the start of a five-day trial in Linn County Circuit Court for Eastman et al vs. Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

This followed a half-day hearing to argue whether or not defendants should receive summary judgment in their favor. ODA and DEQ had filed a motion Oct. 2 claiming petitioners had no legal grounds to request a reversal of the decision to issue the permit.

At the close of the hearing it was determined a jury should decide the merits of petitioners’ claims and the trial was booked.

A status check hearing was also scheduled for Dec. 14 to follow up on any outstanding pre-trial concerns.

At issue is whether or not ODA and DEQ erred by approving a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) permit for J-S Ranch in Scio, in May of 2022. 

The facility would be able to produce up to 3.5 million broiler chickens annually for Foster Farms.

Community advocates including Scio-based Farmers Against Foster Farms (FAFF) have opposed the operation as an allegedly-harmful source of air and water pollution. 

FAFF President Christina Eastman is the lead petitioner in the suit, which was filed on Oct. 4, 2022. Fellow petitioners included FAFF and advocacy groups Friends of Family Farmers and Willamette Riverkeeper.

Petitioners claim J-S Ranch does not have the capacity to handle 4,500 tons of solid chicken waste produced each year, potentially leading to surface water pollution through storm runoff. 

They also claimed the ranch would produce 178 tons of ammonia annually and airborne ammonia deposits may settle in the nearby North Santiam River.

Petitioners claim, given the alleged potential for surface water pollution, ODA and DEQ issued the incorrect permit to J-S Ranch and its failure to mitigate pollution violated state and federal laws. They have asked the court to reverse the decision to issue the CAFO permit and for the reimbursement of attorney’s fees.

Defendants said in their Oct. 2 motion that petitioners cited regulations that don’t apply to chicken ranches but rather to sewer plants and other facilities designed for surface water discharge. 

They also noted the North Santiam River is more than a quarter-mile away from J-S- Ranch and no regulations exist for potential water pollution via air or ground over such a distance.

Also opposed to petitioners is the Northwest Chicken Council (NCC), which filed a motion to intervene Aug. 4 that would allow them to join as a party to the suit.

NCC said the outcome of the case could impact its goal as an organization to promote and improve poultry farming in the Pacific Northwest. The group also said J-S Ranch owner Eric Simon is among its members and NCC wanted to protect Simon’s ability to begin ranch operations.

Petitioners opposed the motion claiming it would create unnecessary delays as most pre-trial proceedings were close to completion and adding a party could restart these processes. 

They also argued NCC is not directly impacted by the suit and that the petition impacts a single member and not all of NCC’s membership.

On Nov. 15 Judge Rachel Kittson-MaQatish denied NCC’s motion to intervene.

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