Friday, December 03, 1999

Egg producer sued by Ohio EPA


Farm officials say it could do better

BY ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Buckeye Egg Farm, sued by the state for alleged pollution violations, could do more to meet Ohio's agricultural requirements, an official with the Ohio Farm Bureau said Thursday.

        “I don't think that Buckeye Egg is doing everything that they should be on meeting the standards they should be,” said John Fisher, the farm bureau's executive vice president.

        “On the other hand, I don't think all the charges are valid,” he said. “So we try to keep moving toward the middle to have a workable solution.”

        Bob Gibbs, Farm Bureau president, added that Ohio does not need new regulations or laws to deal with megafarms.

        “I think the regulations are probably in place to take care of any problems,” he said.

        The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency sued Buckeye Egg on Wednesday after the company missed Tuesday's deadline set by the state to pay $750,000 in civil penalties, reduce fly infestations and limit expansion plans and flock size.

        The 27-count lawsuit, filed in Licking County Common Pleas Court in Newark, accuses the company of dumping dead chickens in a field, polluting creeks and causing infestations of flies, beetles and other insects.

        The EPA wants Buckeye Egg, which raises 10 million hens in Licking, Wyandot, Hardin and Marion counties, to clean up polluted sites, stop contamination, limit expansion for five years and pay fines of up to $25,000 per day per violation.

        The company, one of the nation's largest egg producers, has annual sales of about $100 million. Its egg farms produce more than 5 million eggs a day that are shipped to grocery stores and restaurants in 20 states.

        The company is familiar with legal challenges. Neighbors have filed two lawsuits over pollution and flies. The EPA also filed a lawsuit in July, seeking a fine of $10,000 a day against the company for discharging sewage into a creek from its operation in Hartford.

        The state also is seeking damages for a separate leak of chicken manure from a pullet building at Buckeye Egg's Croton farm that allegedly caused a large fish kill in Lobdell Creek on May 27.

        Mr. Fisher said that in the past, Farm Bureau officials have met with Buckeye Egg to encourage the company to do what it can to raise its standards.

        “We want them to know we expect them to comply with environ mental laws here in Ohio and nationally,” he said. “We talk about our concern about the impact they're having on the entire industry.”

        Buckeye Egg operates under some of the strictest permits in the country for egg operations, Alice Walters, executive director of the Ohio Poultry Association, said Thursday.

        She said the company has made progress since Elliot Jones became chief operating officer a year ago.

        “There's definitely been management errors,” she said. “But I also believe Elliot Jones has fairly tried to do what's correct and he's been working along in that area.”

        Mr. Jones said Thursday afternoon that he hopes to hear back from the state attorney general's office next week on a company proposal to address the EPA's concerns.

        He declined other comment, saying he didn't want to jeopardize negotiations.

        Some farmers attending the Farm Bureau's annual conference Thursday thought the lawsuit was appropriate.

        “When they're on that large a scale, somebody's got to do something,” said Paul Morrison, 44, who raises hogs and grows corn and soybeans on 60 acres in Darke County.

        “It's all about greed anyway. When big money talks and they can walk all over the neighbors for money, it's not right,” he said. “They've got to be responsible for what they're doing.”

       



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