Opponents are calling on Oregon state officials to rescind a permit authorizing an industrial chicken plant in Scio, southeast of Salem.
Last month, the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a permit for a breeding operation of 3.4 million chickens per year.
Eight nonprofits, including Farmers against Foster Farms, a local opposition group, said in a petition that allowing JS Ranch to operate a large chicken plant in the area would cause ‘irreparable harm’ to the community .
“The petitioners have thousands of members in Oregon who are concerned about JS Ranch’s potential to harm water quality if agencies do not reconsider the order and instead allow the facility to begin feeding, to store and dispose of the waste generated by 3.5 million chickens per 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 the rejection of the permit is crucial following the recent sale of Foster Farms to an investment company and the potential for this to lead to an expansion of industrial chicken ranches in the North West.
The petition called for the state to revoke the agricultural license for JS Ranch or require increased pollution monitoring. The department permit allows owner Eric Simon to raise more than 3.4 million chickens a year for Foster Farms. The plant will produce 4,500 tonnes of waste, which Simon plans to sell as soil enrichment.
On Friday, he obtained a DEQ stormwater building permit to build 11 barns 60 feet wide and about 650 feet long on his 60-acre property. It also requires a Linn County Highway Access Permit for truck traffic, with vehicles bringing chicks and taking chickens to the Foster Farms slaughterhouse in Kelso, Washington.
“We’re ready to go, but the weather isn’t cooperating with us,” Simon said.
Simon said the petition was part of a strategy by opponents to put him out of business. They have been protesting the plant since Simon applied for his permit from the Ministry of Agriculture in 2020.
“They told me from the start that their goal was to put me out of business,” Simon said. “They try to make an example of us” to deter similar projects.
Another rancher, who wants to build 16 barns in the Jordan region to raise 4.5 million birds a year for Foster Farms, is awaiting a decision on his CAFO application. A third installation is planned in the Aumsville area.
The Department of Agriculture said it was reviewing the petition. DEQ has not yet reviewed it, said DEQ spokesperson Dylan Darling. They have 30 days to respond to a request for a stay from opponents and 60 days to respond to the request.
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 counsel for the Center for Food Safety in Washington DC. She said airborne ammonia could travel up to six miles and would likely pollute the river and harm fish.
“The ODA basically put their head in the sand,” van Saun said.
“The stretch of North Santiam at issue is a special, near-pristine area, which provides crucial habitat for many sensitive species, including federally listed chinook salmon and rainbow trout, and is valued by members of the petitioners,” the petition reads. It says the plant will also likely pollute groundwater in an area where residents depend on wells for drinking water.
Simon refuted this, saying chicken waste is dry.
The permit comes with conditions
The CAFO license has some caveats. Simon must prove that there is no transmission of waste from the barn floors and he must install groundwater monitoring wells to test the water. Opponents said that was not enough.
The petition argues that the plant should be required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that includes more stringent standards than the requirements it currently faces, van Saun said.
“(This permit) would recognize that there will be a spill into surface waters and then they can control that spill,” van Saun said. “More monitoring would be needed.”
Simon is confident that the state will reject the petition. He hopes to start “moving the earth” this summer.
Opponents fear the plant will compromise the region’s quality of life, while proponents of the ranch claim it will feed tens of thousands of people a year.
“This ranch, which will feed 140,000 people each year, meets all Oregon water and air quality requirements,” 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 JS Ranch is especially crucial now after the sale of Foster Farms to Atlas Holdings, a Connecticut joint-stock company.
Atlas Holdings and its subsidiaries own 25 companies in a variety of industries, from automotive and construction to food manufacturing.
Opponents suspect he plans to add industrial chicken plants to the North West.
“Companies don’t acquire other companies to maintain the status quo,” said Kendra Kimbirauskas, a Scio-area farmer who opposes JS Ranch. “There is clearly a program to expand poultry production in the Willamette Valley.”
Simon said the sale also took him by surprise. He said his facility does not mark expansion due to the loss of Foster Farms facilities over the past 15 years.
“Many ranchers have retired or sold the farm for other uses,” Simon said. “There was only one new house built during this time.”
By Lynne Terry of Press Partner Oregon Capital Chronicle