Expert: Recreation on Illinois River has declined

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 6:54 PM

About 30,000 fewer people floated in the Illinois River watershed in 2007 compared with two years earlier, a professor testified Tuesday, suggesting that decades of chicken manure pollution may have made one of the state's top recreational areas less attractive to the public.

Oklahoma State University professor Lowell Caneday, who has studied the 1 million-acre watershed for decades, also testified he personally witnessed some of the pollution, such as a clump of poultry manure with feathers, straw and other debris, floating down the Illinois River. On one rainy day in 2007, Caneday claimed he saw a farm field spread with so much chicken manure, it appeared to "move" across the road in the storm.

Caneday is a witness in the state of Oklahoma's federal pollution trial against the Arkansas poultry industry. Oklahoma claims 11 companies, including Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, are responsible for mucking up a once-pristine river valley that straddles portions of both states.

Tuesday was the 20th day of the trial, which began in September.

Charlie Price, a spokesman for the Oklahoma attorney general's office, said Tuesday the state is hoping to finish its side of the case in the next three to four weeks _ a near-guarantee the nonjury trial will stretch into January because the poultry companies still have yet to present their case.

On cross-examination Tuesday, poultry company attorneys heatedly disputed Caneday's account of chicken litter floating down the river.

Tom Green, an attorney for Tyson, also challenged Caneday's anecdote of seeing the field that appeared to "move" across the road, asking the professor if he actually followed the waste as it traveled from pasture to river.

"Logic would tell you it couldn't go anywhere else," Caneday responded.

The companies offered other theories why floaters in the watershed dipped in 2007, such as the high cost of gas and the country's beginning slide into a recession, and Caneday conceded there was no way to say what one factor was causing the decline.

Oklahoma sued the industry in 2005, claiming that the companies are responsible for the tons of manure their chickens produce. The companies say the waste is the responsibility of their contract growers.

The other defendants named in the lawsuit are Cargill Inc., Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.