U.S. Water News Online
PRYOR, Okla. -- Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of property
owners along Grand Lake should be added to a lawsuit accusing three
Arkansas poultry companies of polluting the water, plaintiffs'
lawyers told a judge.
Mayes County District Judge James Goodpaster will decide whether
all lakefront property owners can be included in a class alleging
Tyson Foods, Simmons Foods and Peterson Farms have created a private
and public nuisance.
Four people who own property on the northeast Oklahoma lake allege
the companies' poultry operations are tainting the lake with an oily
scum and excessive algae growth.
They are seeking an injunction and damages on allegations the
pollution has depressed property values. The hearing on the issue
could take three days.
Attorney David Brower said legal precedent required the judge to
decide only if all lakefront property owners could claim in general
to be affected by the poultry companies' alleged actions -- not the
merit of the allegations themselves.
``Deciding questions of who is right and wrong in the lawsuit is
clearly forbidden'' during the hearing, said Brower, who represented
the property owners.
All property owners share a common interest in the lake whether
they prefer to use it for swimming, fishing or admiring the scenery,
``These people have made an investment in the lake by virtue of
their purchase of the property,'' Brower said.
But Tyson attorney Stratton Taylor disputed his claims, telling
the judge the property owners are too diverse and have too many
conflicts of interest to be included in a single class.
It would be a ``nightmare'' to assign any damages when the
property size and uses vary widely, said Taylor, who also serves as a
state senator. A 1,000-acre ranch, for example, sits alongside
individual residential lots, he said.
``Is property that is on an individual lot different from property
that has a boat dock?'' he asked.
Some property owners could even have conflicts because of their
own contribution to pollution through fertilizer application, leaking
septic tanks and improper construction, Taylor said.
The plaintiffs accuse Tyson Foods in the original lawsuit of
discharging millions of gallons of wastewater from its processing
plant near Noel, Mo., into the Elk River.
The river flows from Missouri into Oklahoma and into Grand Lake,
which covers more than 46,500 acres in Delaware, Mayes and Ottawa
According to a 2001 Oklahoma Water Resources Board water quality
report, the wastewater discharge at Elk River contains elevated
levels of ammonia, phosphorous, nitrates and algae.
The lawsuit also alleges that a Simmons' processing plant near the
Oklahoma-Missouri line discharges pollution-causing wastewater into a
Grand Lake tributary.
And it alleges contract farms for all three companies contribute
to the lake's problems by depositing poultry waste on the land.
In March, the city of Tulsa settled a lawsuit accusing the three
companies, along with three other Arkansas poultry firms and the city
of Decatur, Ark., of tainting its drinking water supply.
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