A first-of-its kind advisory board will evaluate rapid poultry industry growth in northeastern Oklahoma.
The Coordinating Council on Poultry Growth is the first such body formed in conjunction with a federally recognized tribe, in this case, the Cherokee Nation.
More than 200 new commercial poultry houses got permits from the state agriculture department in the past year, many of them in northeastern Oklahoma. Residents aren’t exactly welcoming them with open arms, voicing concerns about water access, air and water quality, and traffic.
"There’s definitely been some concerns by some of the local communities about how this is affecting their community," said Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill.
Hill said the Coordinating Council on Poultry Growth is looking to give residents a voice, not shut down farms.
"There’s an opportunity for the communities themselves to weigh in on, ‘What’s going on in our community? And who do we talk to about these issues and these concerns as they’re raised?’ So, I don’t think that I’ve ever heard — you know, I’ve not heard discussion about anybody really wanting to drive out agriculture from a part of the state where agriculture is so important," Hill said.
A news release from Gov. Mary Fallin's Office announcing the coordinating council said the goal is to improve communication between residents and poultry farmers.
"Getting those people in a situation where they can talk to one another and we can identify what is the low-hanging fruit, where are places where we can make a difference quickly and improve the lives of the parties that are involved and looking for ways to do that is definitely what the goal is," Hill said.
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports 75 percent of new poultry houses permitted in the past 12 months are contracted to Simmons Foods, which is building a new plant just across the border in Arkansas.
Besides the Cherokee Nation and agriculture department, the coordinating council includes the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Grand River Dam Authority and state conservation commission.
A call to the state agriculture department for this story was not returned.