By Judi Boland
The Associated Press
CRESCENT, OK (AP)--One of the state's first large-scale hog farms, which is now out of business, has become the center of environmental complaints.
Federal Environmental Protection Agency investigators checked out what used to be Cimarron Pork in far northern Logan County on May 10, acting on complaints from environmentalists concerned about water contamination.
"They've agreed that we need help and they're here," Sierra Club spokesman Keith Smith said as he stood outside the gates of the farm May 10.
EPA spokesman Dave Bary in Dallas couldn't confirm an inspection was under way.
"I can confirm that warrants have been executed in Oklahoma by inspectors and investigators of the EPA regional office in Dallas," he said.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture mailed a letter to Cimarron Pork about a formal hearing June 6 that will address concerns about the farm. The hog farm closed Nov. 9.
ODA spokesman Jack Carson said the director of water quality went to the site May 4, after receiving a complaint of hog carcasses along the creek.
"He walked the creek out on the property and did not find any," Carson said. But he said some hogs apparently had been buried before 1996. "He found bones and what not. That area would definitely be a problem."
Carson said the farm also did not legally dispose of pigs after obtaining an emergency burial permit at the farm in November. He said the farm was told it needed a liner in a burial pit and no liner was placed there. The death of the pigs from a virus apparently was the final blow for the farm, which had financial problems, Carson said.
"They did not follow the law. They did not follow our instructions," he said.
Area residents said they have had concerns about the hog farm since it started operating. The plans for the farm were announced in 1992.
Spencer and Freda McDaniel, who live next to the farm, said they started to worry about possible contamination to their well last fall. As a result they twice sent in well samples for testing. Both times, the samples showed high fecal coliform levels and the McDaniels were told not to drink the water. A recent sample taken by ODA showed the water was safe.
"We've been buying our drinking water since that first test," Freda McDaniel said.
While other surrounding neighbors said they are not worried about their water quality because they live upstream from the facility, they said they have had other concerns while the plant was in operation such as strong odors and a falling water table due to the drilling of multiple water wells on the property.
Smith said Suzette Hatfield of the Oklahoma Family Farm Alliance took aerial photos last week of Cimarron Pork that showed algae-covered waterways, creek-side carcass dumps and a large solid waste pit.
Hatfield added during the farm alliance's investigation it found what it believed to be medical supplies dumped near a lagoon she said had been made by damming up two streams that ran through the property.
The Sierra Club, the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation and the Oklahoma Family Farm Alliance allege groundwater is contaminated. The group criticized ODA for a lack of oversight of Cimarron Pork.
"We have a very long history of monitoring this place," Carson said. "I don't know how they justify saying that we haven't been monitoring this facility."
Carson said the company had until Tuesday to begin its cleanup of the site and has until Nov. 9 to complete cleanup. Carson said the department has continued to monitor water quality at the site.
The environmentalists passed out what they said were reports from ODA water samples taken from wells on the property on Jan. 23, 1998, that showed nitrogen nitrate levels of 24.6 mg when acceptable levels are .20.
"Under the laws we have today, we would not have approved that site for a hog facility," Carson said. "It's actually just not a good place to put a hog farm. The terrain is wrong and it's close to that creek. There's an inhabited house about a half-mile away. They would not have even be considered for a license if they came to us today."