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

Court denies summary judgment in CAFO appeal

A lawsuit attempting to block a permit for a local industrial-scale chicken farm is proceeding to trial in May after surviving a second attempt by state regulators to have the case thrown out.

On April 1, Linn County Circuit Court Judge Rachel Kittson-MaQatish signed an order denying a motion for summary judgment in Eastman et al vs. State of Oregon. 

Respondents Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) filed the motion Jan. 25, arguing petitioners had failed to make their case. A hearing was held March 15 and Kittson-MaQatish determined there were still issues a jury should decide.

A five-day trial is scheduled to begin May 13, and parties are due back in court April 26 to argue pre-trial motions.

The suit was filed Oct. 4, 2022, by lead petitioner Christina Eastman as well as advocacy groups Farmers Against Foster Farms (FAFF), Friends of Family Farmers and Willamette Riverkeeper. They claim the ODA and DEQ ignored state and federal environmental protections when approving an operational permit that May for J-S Ranch in Scio, and want the permit rescinded.

The farm is classified as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) and would be able to produce up to 3.5 million broiler chickens annually for Foster Farms.

FAFF and local residents were central in the passage of CAFO reform in Salem last year, including tougher restrictions for CAFO permits and limits on water for livestock.

Petitioners argue J-S-Ranch lacks the facilities to properly manage 4,500 tons of solid chicken waste and 178 tons of ammonia that would be produced annually. They said surface runoff would likely threaten local water systems such as the North Santiam River, which is about a 1/4-mile away.

Respondents defended the permit in a Dec. 2, 2022, filing and said they acted within their authority and according to the law.

In an initial motion for summary judgment filed Oct. 2, 2023, respondents said petitioners were applying a law meant for sewer treatment plants and not for farms. They also said the North Santiam River was not close enough to the farm to be taken into account when applying environmental protections.

A hearing was held on this motion Nov. 15, 2023, with no decision from the judge. Two weeks later petitioners filed an amended complaint clarifying their claims that J-S Ranch is unprepared for millions of gallons in storm runoff that could spread pollutants.

Respondents filed a supplemental motion for summary judgment Jan. 25 and reiterated the position that petitioners are trying to hold them to laws that do not apply. Specifically they said Oregon law does not require aerial emissions to be considered in a groundwater discharge permit like that issued to J-S Ranch.

Petitioners responded Feb. 26 and said Oregon’s water pollution laws are not so narrow and there was room to argue that respondents have the authority to take air emissions into consideration. Kittson-MaQatish’s April 1 order supported this position.

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